Wabtec, Roy Hill Unveil Second-Gen FLXdrive (Updated)

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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All photos: Greg McDonnell

Wabtec on Oct. 31 revealed its second-generation FLXdrive battery locomotive, which will be delivered in 2024 to Australian iron ore mining company Roy Hill. The unit’s pink livery symbolizes Roy Hill’s commitment to supporting breast cancer research and patients.

The 100% battery-powered, heavy-haul locomotive features an energy capacity of 7 MWh (megawatt hours). The first-generation FLXdrive, with a 2.4 MWh capacity, was piloted on BNSF in 2021 between Barstow and Stockton, Calif.

Based on Roy Hill’s rail operations and its route, Wabtec said the new FLXdrive is expected to provide a double-digit percentage reduction in fuel costs and emissions per train. Once Wabtec completes the final battery installations and track testing, the locomotive will begin its 10,500-mile journey for delivery to its new home in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Roy Hill announced its order for a single unit in September 2021. The company currently uses four Wabtec ES44ACi Evolution Series diesel-electrics in a consist to haul unit trains that are typically 1.6 miles in length, carrying more than 33,000 tons of iron ore. The addition of the FLXdrive will form a hybrid locomotive consist with Wabtec diesel-electrics, and recharge during the trip through regenerative braking. According to Wabtec, the FLXdrive manages the overall train energy flow and distribution through its energy management software. The unit is also designed with a battery thermal management system using liquid cooling to withstand the Pilbara heat, where temperatures can reach 130 degrees F (55°C), the manufacturer said.

“The foresight of our Executive Chairman, Mrs. Gina Rinehart AO, has been instrumental in establishing an environment in which we can successfully leverage the ingenuity of our people alongside key partners like Wabtec to transform our rail and mining operations through next-generation technologies,” said Gerhard Veldsman, CEO of Hancock Prospecting Group Operations, the majority owner of Roy Hill. “The technological smarts that have gone into the development of the loco makes it well suited for our rail network. By using regenerative braking, it will charge its battery on the 344-kilometer (214-mile) downhill run from our mine to port facility and use that stored energy to return to the mine, starting the cycle all over again. This will not only enable us to realize energy efficiencies but also lower operating costs.”

“This FLXdrive locomotive represents a major step in the journey to a low-to-zero-emission future in the rail industry,” said Rafael Santana, President and CEO of Wabtec, which commemorated the FLXdrive’s premiere, Roy Hill, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month by donating $50,000 to Linked By Pink, a non-profit organization consisting of Erie, Pa.-area survivors diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45.

GE Transportation—now part of Wabtec—in 2018 joined with Roy Hill to support breast cancer treatment and research with two new ES44ACi locomotives and 130 China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC)-built ore cars painted in a bright pink livery.

In related news, four second-gen FLXdrives are expected to begin test runs in 2024 along Rio Tinto’s western Australian rail network. Also, BHP subsidiary Western Australia Iron Ore in January 2022 ordered two second-gen FLXdrives.

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