BNSF and Wabtec Test Battery-Electric Locomotive in California

BNSF and Wabtec have started testing a battery-electric locomotive in revenue service between Barstow and Stockton (350 miles), California to assess the viability of battery technology.

The battery-powered locomotive is located between two Tier 4 locomotives to create a battery-electric-diesel consist, meaning that in operation the train will be powered by both the battery-electric and the diesel locomotives.

By using the battery-electric locomotive to help power the train, BNSF believes the fuel efficiency of the complete train will be improved by a minimum of 10 percent. This is alongside a reduction in emissions. BNSF and Wabtec will run the pilot from January until the end of March 2021. If successful, BNSF aims to increase its tests of battery technology to other locations and operating conditions.

The locomotive’s lithium-ion batteries – 20 racks, consisting of around 20,000 battery cells – can be recharged either from regenerative braking energy or from the wayside charging facility in Stockton.

John Lovenburg, BNSF Vice President, Environmental, said:

“We've got everything in place and we're ready to see how this next-generation locomotive performs in revenue service. BNSF is focused on continuing to reduce our environmental impact, and we’re committed to doing our part to test and assess the commercial viability of emerging technologies that reduce emissions.”

Other technologies BNSF has been exploring are idle control, electric wide-span cranes, battery-electric hostlers, automated gates at its intermodal facilities, and Tier 4 diesel locomotives. BNSF has worked with Wabtec (which took over GE Transportation) to develop the battery-electric locomotive. It is equipped with an energy-management system, including on-board energy storage. This system will help the improve the train performance.

Alan Hamilton, Wabtec Vice President, Engineering, said:

“The FLXdrive is the world’s first 100-percent, heavy-haul battery-electric locomotive that optimizes the total energy utilization of the entire locomotive consist. This technology works in a manner very similar to how electric vehicles use regenerative braking. It’s a significant step forward for the rail industry and will change the course for even cleaner, more energy-efficient transport.”

The California Air Resource Board awarded BNSF and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District a 22.6 million USD grant from the Near Zero-Emission Freight Facilities (ZANZEFF) project and this battery-electric locomotive pilot is funded by that grant money. ZANZEFF is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide programme that aims at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and improving public health and the environment.

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