Union Pacific sees battery-electric locomotives as the future

By Bill Stephens for trains.com

Railroad will also explore other alternatives to diesels, install fuel-saving technologies

OMAHA, Neb. — With a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26% by the end of the decade, Union Pacific is working to improve locomotive fuel efficiency, plans to roll out battery-electric locomotives soon, and is exploring alternatives to the diesel-electric.

“We do not plan on buying any new locomotives — unless it’s battery-electric locomotives for testing out that concept, in which case I think we will be on top of that in the very near future,” CEO Lance Fritz said during an investor day presentation on Tuesday.

UP plans to introduce battery-electric switching locomotives — first in California and then in yards and local operations across the system — and is working with Wabtec and Progress Rail on road locomotives that will reduce emissions.

“We’re exploring alternate fuels where it makes sense,” says Shane Keller, senior vice president of engineering and mechanical. “We’re finalizing our strategy to test and deploy battery-electric locomotives in our yard and local operations in California.”

Last year, Progress Rail unveiled its EMD Joule battery electric switcher, a 3,000-hp unit that can run for up to 24 hours. This year BNSF Railway tested Wabtec’s FLXdrive battery electric road locomotive in California. The locomotive reduced fuel consumption of a conventional locomotive lash-up by 10%, and Wabtec officials believe a production version with more batteries can reduce fuel use by up to 30%.

Meanwhile, UP plans to upgrade or install energy management systems — including Wabtec’s Trip Optimizer and New York Air Brake’s LEADER (Locomotive Engineer Assist/Display and Event Recorder) — on its entire high-horsepower road fleet by the end of this year, says Eric Gehringer, executive vice president of operations.

The systems automatically control throttle and dynamic brake settings to reduce fuel use by as much as 10%. They also can automatically idle trailing units in a locomotive consist whose horsepower is not needed to maintain track speed.

Improving the railroad’s fuel efficiency is critical from a competitive standpoint as diesel trucks get more efficient and electric trucks and hydrogen fuel cell rigs are entering service, UP officials say.

And by the end of 2022 UP will modernize an additional 300 road locomotives, making them more fuel efficient and more reliable. Unlike an overhaul — which simply replaces worn components with identical but new parts — a modernization involves upgrading components, including control systems, Keller says.

UP says it modernized nearly 175 units last year at its Jenks Shop in North Little Rock, Ark., work that allows the locomotives to meet more stringent emissions standards.

The modernized locomotives have been twice as reliable as new units, Keller says. “They’ve been outstanding in their performance,” he says.

UP also has increased its use of renewable and biodiesel fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Auto and Homeowner’s Insurance Program for TCU/IAM members!

TCU/IAM members take advantage of discounted activities with Union Plus!

  • Up to 25% on Car Rentals with Avis, Budget, Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty and Payless
  • Book flights and hotels together and save with Expedia
  • Tours and restaurant discounts
  • Discounts for water/theme parks, concerts and sporting events tickets
  • Save up to 24% on movie theater eTickets

Start Your Savings Here!

November 2023