Visitors inspect Wabtec’s FLXdrive battery electric locomotive at an event in Pittsburgh on Friday to announce the formation of a consortium of Wabtec, Genesee & Wyoming and Carnegie Mellon University to pursue new and improved rail technologies. (Dan Cupper)

PITTSBURGH – A railway manufacturer, a short-lived holding company and a university have announced the formation of a consortium that they hope will revolutionize the U.S. railroad and ultimately reduce the company’s carbon footprint to zero. industry.

Wabtec Corp., based in Pittsburgh; Carnegie Mellon University, known for its engineering studies; and local and regional rail operator Genesee & Wyoming announced on Friday (September 10) that they had signed a memorandum of understanding to work towards creating a more sustainable rail freight network.

The parties will work on two fronts: developing fleets of locomotives using alternative energy sources such as batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, and advancing current signaling and digital technologies to increase railway capacity and safety.

Elected officials and other speakers hailed this effort as a first step towards “decarbonizing rail freight transport”. U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.) Highlighted Pennsylvania’s long-standing leadership role in transportation, from the main line of public works to the 1830s canal and rail system through the consummate railway town, Altoona, Pa., which once employed 16,000 workers at the Pennsylvania Railroad workshop complex.

Man speaking at podium with locomotive in background
US Senator Robert Casey speaks at the Wabtec Friday event, with the FLXdrive locomotive as a backdrop. (Dan Cupper)

“Today’s announcement will put Pittsburgh at the center of efforts to tackle climate change through transportation policy,” Casey said, “and will also drive significant job growth, reduce emissions greenhouse gas emissions and will allow the United States to become an international leader in the creation of zero emission solutions for rail. “

In May, Casey introduced a bill, S.1732, that would allocate $ 600 million to a freight rail innovation institute to research and develop alternate horsepower locomotives. U.S. Representative Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), Who also spoke on Friday, was a co-sponsor of the house version of the bill [see “Digest: Industrial development firm launches rail affiliate …,” Trains News Wire, May 26, 2021]. The deal announced Friday will see Wabtec, Carnegie Mellon and G&W formally join forces in a partnership to continue the creation of the institute.

G&W, which has 116 freight carriers in North America, the UK and Europe, will provide a place to test the technologies developed by the group on its Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad.

G&W President and CEO Jack Hellmann said The trains News Wire that Buffalo & Pittsburgh is ideal testing ground for new technology, having rugged inclines, operating a manifesto of 130 cars and experiencing extreme weather contrasts along its roughly 220 mile mainline between New Castle, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh and Buffalo, NY “We are the incubator, we are the proving ground for these new technologies,” he said. G&W plans to operate a battery-powered and hydrogen-powered assembly in commercial service on the B&P within three years

Joe Parsons, president and CEO of the Iowa Interstate Railroad, was in attendance and said his railroad would be interested in exploring battery-powered technology. A preliminary step, he said, would be for Iowa Interstate to upload event recorder data to Wabtec to provide information on ratings, fuel consumption and other profile-specific clues. operation of this railway. Iowa Interstate President Henry Posner III is on the CMU faculty.

FLXdrive details and plans for its successor

As part of this announcement, Wabtec presented its first efforts in the field of alternative energy locomotives, the six-axle FLXdrive battery electric locomotive developed in cooperation with BNSF Railway. The locomotive completed 13,000 miles of testing in California earlier this year [see “Wabtec, BNSF conclude initial tests of battery-electric locomotive,” News Wire, April 30, 2021].

The locomotive, labeled GECX 3000, is the result of years of testing and development and was built at Wabtec’s former GE Transportation plant in Erie, Pennsylvania. Wabtec acquired the locomotives business from GE in 2019.

Man in the hallway inside the locomotive
Wabtec control engineer John Dick, in the interior gangway of the FLXdrive locomotive, explains the details of the battery compartment. (Dan Cupper)

From the front, the bright red locomotive looks like other GE road engines, but the likeness ends about 15 feet behind the cab, where the body flares out across the width to accommodate 500 lithium battery modules. -ion ​​comprising 18,000 individual cells. An interior gangway along the center line of the battery compartment allows the crew access from the cabin to the aft platform and steps. Air is constantly circulated to cool the batteries, according to Wabtec control engineer John Dick, who added that a large HVAC unit mounted above the battery section is designed to keep the interior warm. constant 74 degrees Fahrenheit, year round.

Like a typical GE Tier 4 ES44 diesel-electric road freight model, the FLXdrive is rated at 4,400 horsepower, but it can generate maximum sustained power for only 30 to 40 minutes, according to Bruce Bloomster, a Wabtec commercial project manager. . Its power output is 2.4 megawatt hours, he said, but Wabtec is designing a next-generation model that will be capable of generating 7 megawatt hours, with the increase being attributable to improvements in battery technology. The next prototype is scheduled for 2023.

From December 2020 to March 2021, GECX 3000 operated in manifest freight service on the BNSF Railway between Stockton and Barstow, Calif. For a distance of approximately 370 miles. Although the engine cabin was fitted with a control console, the prototype is designed to operate only in a trailed configuration, so it typically operated with BNSF diesel units in the front and rear.

Wabtec’s old Trip Optimizer technology, used on diesel locomotives to serve as cruise control, has been modified to allow the distribution of the electrical load between units operating in a multi-unit configuration, first using the battery power, then diesel power. For an engineer, the transition would be invisible. Another aspect of the crew cab environment is that the unit is much quieter than a conventional diesel locomotive.

Between trips, the unit is plugged into a 480 volt power supply which takes eight hours to recharge. Engineers say the next iteration of the unit will reduce that to four hours, and the charging method could possibly be changed to a pantograph on the roof of the crate.

In place of the fuel tank are two electrical cabinets mounted on a frame. The front part ensures the load, while the rear part is dedicated to the management of the auxiliary low power electricity, that is to say all that is not necessary for the propulsion.

The unit runs on a C4 configuration, with four axles powered per truck. Two central idler axles on each truck work like a diesel unit, dynamically distributing weight for maximum traction. The FLXdrive unit uses regenerative (dynamic) braking to recharge the batteries.

Using a yard track from the former Monongahela Connecting Railway (now operated by Allegheny Valley Railroad), the event was held at the campus of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center along the east bank of the Monongahela River, with the Pittsburgh skyline behind. Speakers, in addition to Casey, Lamb and Hellmann, were Wabtec CEO Rafael Santana and William H. Sanders, Dean of CMU College of Engineering.


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