Watch Now

BNSF, Wabtec put battery-electric locomotive to the test

BNSF could test the locomotive technology in other locations or under different operating conditions

BNSF and Wabtec are testing a battery-electric locomotive. (Photo: BNSF)

Western U.S. railroad BNSF (NYSE: BRK) and rail technology provider Wabtec (NYSE: WAB) are exploring how battery-electric locomotives operate in service.

The two are in the advanced testing stages for a battery-electric locomotive that will run between Barstow and Stockton, California. The locomotive will be placed between two Tier 4 locomotives, creating a battery-electric hybrid consist, BNSF said. As the train runs, it will use the battery-electric locomotive and the diesel locomotives. A locomotive consist is a group of locomotives.

“We’ve got everything in place and we’re ready to see how this next-generation locomotive performs in revenue service,” said John Lovenburg, BNSF vice president for environmental. “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.”

The pilot test of putting the battery-electric locomotive in revenue service will run from January until the end of March, according to BNSF. If the test goes well, BNSF could consider expanding its testing efforts to other locations or it could conduct tests under different operating conditions. 

BNSF says the battery-electric locomotive could improve fuel economy for the entire train by at least 10% while reducing carbon emissions. The battery-electric locomotive also has an energy management system that aims to improve train performance. 

“The FLXdrive is the world’s first 100%, heavy-haul battery-electric locomotive that optimizes the total energy utilization of the entire locomotive consist,” said Alan Hamilton, Wabtec vice president for engineering. “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.”

Wabtec’s video describing the technology is available here.

BNSF’s pilot received $22.6 million in grant funding from the Zero- and Near Zero-Emissions Freight Facilities project by the California Air Resource Board. The board awarded the grant to BNSF and to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District because it met the grant program’s objective of developing emissions-reducing technologies in and around railyards. The grant program itself is part of a wider statewide initiative aimed at putting billions of cap-and-trade dollars into investments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote improved public and environmental health.  

Subscribe to FreightWaves’ e-newsletters and get the latest insights on freight right in your inbox.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related articles:

BNSF ready for business in Kansas, Missouri and Texas

Rail manufacturers Wabtec and Greenbrier share plans to fight climate change

5 rail sustainability trends for 2021

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.