Wabtec, G&W and Carnegie Mellon partner to advance battery-electric locomotives

Partnership to serve as foundation for Freight Rail Innovation Institute

Wabtec has signed memorandums of understanding with Carnegie Mellon University and privately held short line operator Genesee & Wyoming to advance the technology of battery-electric locomotives. 

The partnerships will serve as the groundwork for all three parties to create a Freight Rail Innovation Institute, which will aim to develop zero-emission locomotives as well as technology to increase freight rail utilization and improve safety. The parties hope the endeavor will result in the creation of 250,000 jobs by 2030.

The partnerships consist of two elements. The first would be powering locomotive fleets with alternative energy sources, such as batteries, while also preparing for a pilot program that would test the use of hydrogen cells in advanced locomotive power systems. The second would be advancing current signaling technology systems and digital technologies to increase rail network capacity, utilization and safety, Wabtec (NYSE: WAB) said.

The MOU with Carnegie Mellon would be related to the development of these technologies, while the agreement with G&W would seek to deploy these technologies on G&W’s Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad, where there are plans to conduct advanced tests of a zero-emissions battery and hydrogen-powered train on over 200 miles of track between Pittsburgh and Buffalo, New York, over the next three years.

Wabtec’s FLXdrive battery electric locomotives at the Freight 2030 event..Friday in Pittsburgh last Friday. (Photo: Ed Rieker/AP Images for Wabtec)

“The time is right to accelerate the application of emerging technologies to transform the rail industry. Advances in digital technologies and artificial intelligence will revolutionize freight rail by driving dramatic improvements in safety and network capacity, while simultaneously increasing efficiency across the nation’s supply chain,” said Carnegie Mellon President Farnam Jahanian. “As these emerging technologies converge with clean energy breakthroughs, we also see a tremendous opportunity to enable the decarbonization of freight rail. CMU looks forward to bringing our research capabilities and our proven track record of success with industry partners to this important effort.”

Said G&W CEO Jack Hellmann, “Through this partnership, we plan to transform the next generation of freight rail transportation by adopting advanced technologies that can eliminate emissions and increase rail utilization without requiring significant new rail infrastructure. The end result will be a cleaner environment, more competitive transportation for our nation’s industrial producers and a freight rail system that remains the most efficient in the world.”

The three parties have previously mentioned their plans to form the institute and develop these technologies but Friday’s announcement formalizes that goal, they said.

“This partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and Genesee & Wyoming further strengthens our efforts to decarbonize global rail transportation and will significantly increase freight rail utilization, efficiency and safety throughout the rail network,” said Wabtec President and CEO Rafael Santana. “The transportation sector is at a critical inflection point. With technologies providing increased battery and hydrogen power capacity, we have the potential to eliminate up to 120 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year in North America.”

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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.