CP’s Hydrogen Locomotive Program Advances

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Canadian Pacific's hydrogen fuel cell-powered linehaul freight locomotive. (Photograph Courtesy of Bilton Welding and Manufacturing Ltd.)

Canadian Pacific's hydrogen fuel cell-powered linehaul freight locomotive. (Photograph Courtesy of Bilton Welding and Manufacturing Ltd.)

Bilton Welding and Manufacturing Ltd. is wrapping up work on the second of three hydrogen fuel cell-powered freight locomotives for Canadian Pacific (CP), the Class I confirmed March 7. The first, currently under test, marked a milestone in November with its first revenue move.

Bilton, based in central Alberta, has provided fabrication expertise and services to CP since the railroad’s Hydrogen Locomotive program began in December 2020 with the retrofit of an existing diesel-electric linehaul locomotive. The diesel prime mover and traction alternator were replaced with hydrogen fuel cell and battery technology to power the unit’s electric traction motors. In November 2021, CP received a $15 million 50% matching grant from Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) to expand the initiative to three locomotives (two linehaul units and one switcher), install hydrogen production facilities at two locations, and create a “global center of excellence in hydrogen and freight rail systems” in AlbertaOn Jan. 24, 2022, CP shared a video on Twitter of the first fully painted locomotive, which the railroad said had run under its own power.

CP on Nov. 16 reported via LinkedIn and Twitter that the linehaul unit pulled seven freight cars from a customer facility. The locomotive had also pulled the Empress, CP’s 1930-vintage steam locomotive, at its Calgary mechanical shop, located some 62 miles south of Bilton’s facility in Innisfail.

The project has been “a long road,” Bilton told the CBC News. “It was a completely new design on everything, whether it be the electronics right through to the cooling system and how you fit all that in an existing diesel engine.”

According to the March 6 report, “the project has the potential to grow into a new line of business [for Bilton] as the manufacturer estimates it could produce about 10 of the locomotives per year.”

Bilton said in a March 6 news release that it “looks forward to continuing its collaboration with CP to refine the locomotive conversion process, with plans to take part in several more locomotive projects.”

By the end of 2023, the three program locomotives, plus the two hydrogen production and fueling facilities in Calgary and Edmonton will be in operation, the Class I confirmed March 7. CP President and CEO Keith Creel, Railway Age’s Co-Railroader of the Year for 2022, said at a New York conference last fall that “we’re going to have a hydrogen locomotive switching customer in Edmonton. A hydrogen locomotive switching customer in Vancouver. And one switching in Calgary.”

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