The New Frontier In Electric Vehicles: Trains With Batteries Big Enough To Power Small Towns

Excerpt from forbes.com

Like a lumbering, mile-long train, change in the freight rail industry isn’t speedy and has to be phased in with care. But locomotive builders and railroads, following the lead of carmakers and truck manufacturers, are turning to batteries big enough to power small towns as a way to curb carbon and diesel emissions, while maintaining a fuel efficiency edge.

Union Pacific recently said it would spend more than $100 million to buy 20 battery-powered locomotives and charging systems from Wabtec and Caterpillar’s Progress Rail, the world’s biggest such purchase to date. Starting in 2023, the Omaha-based railroad will use the trains to pull cars around freight yards in California and Nebraska – rather than on cross-country runs – and estimates the mammoth machines could eliminate 8,000 tons of carbon emissions annually. Adding batteries is also a way to buttress efficiency: Trains haul freight over 480 miles per gallon of diesel fuel per ton. That’s up to four times better than the average for trucks, according to the Association of American Railroads.

“We’re advantaged from a fuel consumption perspective and we’re advantaged from a (diesel) particulate standpoint but trucks might get batteries sooner, and they’ll start to creep up on us,” Beth Whited, Union Pacific’s executive vice president for sustainability and strategy, tells Forbes. The second-largest U.S. railroad by revenue also intends to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26% by 2030 and thinks electric trains can help do that. “The big deal for us is to really drive the emissions reductions–as quickly as we can.”