The coldest months of the year, typically November through March, may be a few months away, but as any experienced railroader will tell you, mid- to late-summer is the time to solidify winter preparedness measures—well before ice, snow and extreme low temperatures literally start freezing equipment. One of the most critical steps is assessing locomotive availability, in particular, one of the most vulnerable items: batteries.
The advanced technology and complex electronics found on modern diesel-electric locomotives place varied and intense demands on batteries. Many locomotive components and subsystems endure general wear and tear, and batteries are no exception. But even well-maintained batteries that are replaced as part of regular maintenance cycles can experience problems, especially when starting a locomotive.
Diesel engine starting systems require a quick burst of power, which is hard on a battery, especially in extremely cold conditions. A battery-only solution expected to provide in excess of 1,500 amps during start-up cranking creates a large voltage drop that can reset electronics, causing a penalty brake application.
A large voltage drop at start-up is just one problem. Locomotive subsystems—safety, communications, PTC, health monitoring—have significantly different requirements that are a constant low-current draw on the batteries. All of these requirements can limit a battery’s useful life, weakening it, resulting in starting difficulties, the worst of which is known as a DWS, or “Dead-Won’t-Start.”
ZTR says the best source for the variety of power required by locomotives is a combination of lead acid batters and supercapacitors. “This combination provides the right jolt of starting power while allowing the batteries to supply the necessary power for other systems,” according to ZTR Railway Division Director of Sales Brian Nelson. “ZTR’s KickStart™ uses supercapacitor technology to bolster locomotive batteries during the engine start, reducing battery strain. That means less energy drain from batteries, longer battery life, less time to recharge batteries, faster cranking speed and outstanding locomotive reliability.”
“Conventional locomotive batteries are slow to recharge and slower to deliver energy,” ZTR points out. “Daily recharges will affect overall longevity. Batteries require periodic maintenance, last about 1.5 to 5 years—often with a rebuild, and exhibit reduced performance in cold weather. Supercapacitors, on the other hand, deliver high power quickly, are capable of one million cycles, require zero maintenance, and offer a lifespan of 10-plus years, with strong performance in all weather conditions.”
KickStart™ provides benefits in three distinct yet integrated locomotive systems. For batteries, KickStart™ provides additional electric current at the beginning of the cranking sequence to aid in locomotive starting, reducing stress on batteries. When starting equipment with KickStart enabled, the locomotive requires less cranking time to start, reducing wear and tear on these systems. For onboard systems, KickStart™ reduces voltage drop during the starting phase to help preserve onboard electrical power, which is critical for reliable, continuous operation of systems including PTC, communications and health monitoring.
“From switchers to main line locomotives, KickStart™ has proven its versatility in helping virtually any locomotive type,” ZTR says. “It has improved starting reliability in the freight and passenger rail industries, modern and older fleets, and both high- and medium/low-horsepower locomotives. In fact, many KickStarts have been applied to high-horsepower locomotives that are 25 years or younger.”
ZTR KickStart™ “has revolutionized locomotive starting power with supercapacitor technology. Cold environments, drained batteries, long charging times–they’re no match for this technology,” says Nelson. “KickStart™ is rapidly proving its worth with our customers, for one very simple reason: It effectively addresses the DWS problem.”