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Rio Tinto will buy 4 battery-electric locomotives from Wabtec

Mining company plans to use battery-electric locomotives eventually in hybrid consist

Wabtec's FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive. (Photo: Wabtec)

Mining company Rio Tinto will be purchasing four FLXdrive battery-electric locomotives from rail technology provider Wabtec (NYSE: WAB) as part of its wider efforts to reduce scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.

The locomotives will support Rio Tinto’s mining operations in the Pilbara region of western Australia. By utilizing the locomotives, which Wabtec says have an energy capacity of 7 megawatt-hours, Rio Tinto expects to reduce its fuel costs and emissions by double digits percentagewise per each train. 

Rio Tinto isn’t the first Australian mining company to purchase the battery-electric locomotive. In September, Wabtec announced that Australian iron ore mining company Roy Hill purchased Wabtec’s FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive for use in mining operations. Roy Hill will also be receiving the locomotive in 2023.

“Our partnership with Wabtec is an investment in innovation and an acknowledgment of the need to increase the pace of our decarbonization efforts,” said Richard Cohen, Rio Tinto iron ore managing director of port, rail and core services, in a Monday release. “By locking this in now, we are making progress in our efforts to reduce our scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.”

Wabtec expects to deliver the locomotives to Rio Tinto in 2023. Once there, Rio Tinto plans to use the locomotives in multiple applications, including as a shunter in the railyard and ultimately in mainline service, they said.

In mainline service, Rio Tinto will transition to a hybrid consist, resulting in a train that would use both battery-electric locomotives and diesel-electric locomotives. Mainline operations consist of three diesel-electric locomotives pulling 240 cars of about 28,000 tons of iron ore.

The hybrid consist is a model that Wabtec and western U.S. railroad BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B) were testing in 2021.

The battery-electric locomotive will recharge during the trip through regenerative braking and at charging stations, the two companies said. Wabtec has also developed a software system that determines optimal times to discharge and recharge batteries along the route.

“The FLXdrive is ideally suited to support Rio Tinto’s sustainability targets for their Pilbara system,” said Rogerio Mendonca, Wabtec president of freight equipment. “This locomotive provides the tractive effort, fuel savings and emissions reductions to cost-effectively run rail networks in the mining industry. The rapid adoption of the FLXdrive by Rio Tinto and other mining operators demonstrates the industry’s commitment to decarbonizing their operations. This solution represents a major step toward achieving zero-emission locomotive fleets in the future.”

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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.