CN testing LNG-fueled main line locomotives

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

CN is testing two main line diesel-electric locomotives fueled principally by LNG (liquefied natural gas) in revenue service in northern Alberta, Canada.

The units are testing on the 300-mile run north of Edmonton to Fort McMurray, the rail gateway to the oil sands region of northern Alberta. Fueling and maintenance takes place in Edmonton.

CN retrofitted the diesel engines in two 3,000-horsepower Electro-Motive Diesel SD40-2 locomotives to run on LNG using conversion kits supplied by Energy Conversions Inc. (ECI) of Tacoma, Wash. ECI says the hybrid fuel locomotive will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 70% over one locomotive duty cycle. The retrofitted locomotives, using 90% natural gas, with 10% diesel fuel for ignition, are paired with an LNG fuel tender—a specially equipped and protected tank car—between them. The tender, a former Union Pacific tank car, was upgraded by a unit of Chart Industries, Inc., New Prague, Minn. Chart is a supplier of cryogenic distribution and storage equipment to bulk and packaged industrial gas customers. LNG fueling is being provided by Encana Corp.

“CN launched this locomotive test to explore the use of natural gas as a potential alternative to conventional diesel fuel,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Keith Creel, “Natural gas has a lower carbon content compared with diesel fuel. Locomotives using natural gas—if the railway technology employing this form of energy ultimately proves viable—would produce significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions. This reflects CN’s continuing drive to look for ways to improve operating efficiency and advance the company’s sustainability agenda.”

CN is also working with EMD, Westport Innovations Inc., and Gaz Métro Transport Solutions (GMTS, a wholly owned subsidiary of Gaz Métro) on a longer-term project to develop a “state-of-the-art” LNG locomotive paired with a “standardized railway tender.” CN will provide two 4,300-hp SD70M-2 EMD locomotives for the test program. EMD, in addition to the engine conversion, will supply technical expertise to integrate the natural gas engine, related components, and controls into the locomotive, including Westport™ high-pressure direct injection (HPDI) technology and LNG fuel system technologies. GMTS will develop natural gas liquefaction requirements and distribution systems. The LNG tender for this initiative will be jointly developed by the project partners.

The CN-led group expects to conduct engine laboratory tests in 2013 and to roll out prototype main line locomotives for road tests in 2014. As part of the project, Westport secured a funding commitment of C$2.3 million from the Canadian government’s Sustainable Development Technology Canada program to develop the HPDI technology for high-horsepower applications.

CN says it “leads the North American rail industry in fuel efficiency, consuming close to 15% less fuel per gross-ton-mile overall than the industry average. CN’s lower fuel consumption results in significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions.”

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