Freight railroads are the efficient prime mover for 40 percent of all freight in the U.S. today in seven key sectors including agriculture, automotive, chemicals, construction, energy, intermodal and forest products. With a network of well over 26,000 locomotives and 140,000 miles of track running in 49 states, the coast-to-coast rail network helps keep the economy moving.
While passenger and freight rail accounts for a relatively small fraction (less than 2.2 percent) of overall greenhouse gas emissions, shippers, governments and others are seeking for all sectors to contribute towards national and international goals to mitigate climate change. And there is tremendous opportunity in the railroad sector.
Unit freight trains moving interstate commerce coast-to-coast are on average about a mile (5,280 feet) in length and those exceeding 100 cars are powered by two or more linehaul locomotives each with engines that are in the range of 3,000 to 4,400 hp, consider that a typical passenger car has about 150 hp! These massive engines consume about 200,000 gallons a year in fuel.
Short line railroads use locomotives with engines that are around 1,500 to 3,300 hp to move shorter trains over shorter routes, about 150-400 miles of track. Railyards and depots are where cars are gathered and joined to form a train, and this maneuvering is performed by switcher locomotives, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 hp, that position cars typically traveling less than one mile.
Diesel is the technology of choice today, and many railroad locomotives in operation are of an older generation diesel, allowing for a tremendous opportunity to modernize and upgrade the fleet to the newest and fourth generation (“Tier 4”) engines that achieve near zero emissions. Repowering an existing locomotive with a new engine reduces carbon footprints by not requiring new steel and the carbon emissions associated from producing that steel. In addition, train operators repowering unregulated locomotives to Tier 4 generation can dramatically reduce fuel consumption by as much as 13,000 gallons annually.
that can lower carbon.
Beyond the newest generation of near zero emissions diesel, leading rail manufacturers are exploring a range of alternative power options.
Caterpillar’s Progress Rail EMD® division’s Joule is a battery electric switcher unit now in service in South America and starting this fall 2021 in the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles in Southern California in the Pacific Harbor Line. The switcher has nominal power up to 3,000 horsepower, and a run time of up to 24 hours, dependent upon charging and utilization, and recovers about 10 percent of energy through regenerative braking. The new EMD® Joule has battery capacity from 1.9 megawatt hours up to 2.4 megawatt hours, with additional options available.
Cummins rail division is the only company in the world powering a hydrogen powered passenger train in commercial operation – the Alstom Coradia iLINT trains. It’s 200 kW hydrogen fuel cell system has over 180,000 km in service, and trains can be refueled in less than 20 minutes time with 18-plus hours of operation between fueling.
With innovations in new power technologies and the ready and waiting opportunity to modernize and upgrade the existing fleet, there have never been more choices for improving the sustainability of passenger and freight rail.