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BNSF, Progress Rail, Chevron to demonstrate hydrogen-powered locomotive

Timeline to be determined after regulatory approval

BNSF, Chevron U.S.A. and Caterpillar subsidiary Progress Rail have each signed a memorandum of understanding to demonstrate a locomotive powered by hydrogen fuel cells in order to confirm the feasibility and performance of hydrogen fuel to power locomotives. 

The MOU has three objectives. If successful, the demonstration would be a step toward providing a lower-emitting alternative to diesel-fueled locomotives, the three companies said in a Tuesday release.

“BNSF is pleased to collaborate with Chevron and Progress Rail in piloting locomotives powered by hydrogen fuel cells,” said John Lovenburg, vice president of environmental for BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B). “This technology could one day be a lower-carbon solution for linehaul service, as it has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and remain cost competitive.”

The first objective is for Progress Rail to design and build a prototype hydrogen fuel cell locomotive for linehaul and/or other types of rail service. The second objective is for Chevron to develop the fueling concept and infrastructure needed to support this type of locomotive. The third objective is to demonstrate a prototype fuel cell locomotive on BNSF’s lines for a mutually agreed upon time. 

The proposed demonstration project is subject to regulatory approval and closing conditions. The initial pilot and the timeline for the project will be released at a later date following the approvals.

All three companies have been involved in developing alternative technologies for the transportation sector. BNSF worked with Wabtec (NYSE: WAB) to demonstrate a battery-electric locomotive, while Progress Rail is working with Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) to increase the biodiesel content for locomotives.

“Caterpillar has made great strides in moving our advanced power technology forward. Our Progress Rail team will leverage that knowledge and experience toward a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive,” said Joe Creed, Caterpillar group president of energy and transportation. “Working with Chevron and BNSF will allow us to advance hydrogen technology across the industry.”

Progress Rail’s parent company, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT), has been working with Chevron (NYSE: CVX) to demonstrate hydrogen projects in transportation and stationary power applications. 

“Chevron is dedicated to scaling up its hydrogen business to help meet the needs of customers who want to reduce the life cycle carbon emissions of their operations,” said Jeff Gustavson, president of Chevron New Energies. “Our work with Progress Rail and BNSF is an important step toward advancing new use cases for hydrogen in heavy-duty transport as we seek to create a commercially viable hydrogen economy.” 

Meanwhile, Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) has been working to develop a network that would serve hydrogen-powered locomotives in addition to testing its own hydrogen locomotive.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.