BNSF/Wabtec BEL Pilot Under Way

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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BNSF Railway and Wabtec have begun testing a battery-electric locomotive (BEL) in revenue service between Barstow and Stockton, Calif. The BEL, sandwiched in between two Wabtec Tier 4 diesel-electric locomotives, creates what is described as a “battery-electric hybrid consist.” All three units power the train in main line operations.

“This initiative builds on BNSF’s existing investments in sustainable technologies including idle control, electric wide-span cranes, battery-electric hostlers, automated gates at its intermodal facilities, and Tier 4 locomotives,” BNSF noted. “BNSF partnered with Wabtec on the development of the battery-electric locomotive, which features an overall energy-management system, including onboard energy storage that, when coupled with advanced system-optimization controls, will improve consist and train performance.”

BNSF and Wabtec expect the BEL to reduce the environmental impact from emissions along the route “in an efficient manner,” while improving the fuel economy for the entire consist by at least 10%. The pilot program will run from January until the end of March 2021. If successful, BNSF said it “will look to expand testing to other locations and operating conditions” on its system.

The BEL uses Wabtec’s FLXdrive, described by Vice President Engineering Alan Hamilton as “the world’s first 100%, heavy-haul battery-electric locomotive that optimizes the total energy utilization of the entire locomotive consist. This technology works in a manner very similar to how electric vehicles use regenerative braking. It’s a significant step forward for the rail industry and will change the course for even cleaner, more energy-efficient transport.” FLXdrive uses 20 lithium-ion battery racks consisting of approximately 20,000 battery cells; an HVAC system to keep batteries at room temperature in all environments; and an energy management system to monitor battery health. Recharging takes place during dynamic braking, or at a recharging facility in Stockton, Calif.

BNSF said it is investigating ways to further reduce its environmental impact. As such, “the advancement of battery technology offers some possible solutions,” according to Vice President Environmental John Lovenburg: “We’ve got everything in place, and we’re ready to see how this next-generation locomotive performs in revenue service. BNSF is focused on continuing to reduce our environmental impact, and we’re committed to doing our part to test and assess the commercial viability of emerging technologies that reduce emissions.”

The BEL pilot program is part of a $22.6 million grant awarded to BNSF and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District from the Zero- and Near Zero-Emission Freight Facilities (ZANZEFF) project by the California Air Resource Board to pilot several emissions-reducing technologies in and around rail yards. The ZANZEFF project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that “puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities.”

Watch Wabtec’s battery-electric locomotive video for more details on how it works. 

Categories: Class I, Freight, Locomotives, Mechanical, News, Regulatory Tags: , , ,