Wabtec launches e-locomotive with first order

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Pittsburgh-based freight train manufacturer Wabtec has unveiled its first battery-electric locomotive. Australian mining company Roy Hill has become the first purchaser of Wabtec’s FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive.

Wabtec revealed the new battery-electric locomotive at Carnegie Mellon University. The development of the locomotive is part of a new venture between Wabtec and the University to develop zero-emissions technology to help move the 1.7bn tons of goods that are shipped on American railroads each year. Wabtec has also announced a collaboration with General Motors (GM) to develop and implement GM’s Ultium battery technology into Wabtec’s freight locomotives.

The new train, known as the FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive, completed a successful trial run in California earlier this year. This pilot program was part of a $22.6 million grant from the California Air Resource Board (CARB), which was awarded to Wabtec, BNSF, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

The FLXdrive in the pilot contains 18,000 lithium-ion battery cells. This gives the locomotive an energy capacity of 2.4-MWh. The drive manages the overall train energy flow and distribution through its Trip Optimizer system. This is an intelligent cruise control system programmed through artificial intelligence so that the locomotive can respond to every turn of the track in the most energy-efficient way possible.

Wabtec already has a second-generation locomotive with a battery capacity of more than 6-MWh in the works. This level of energy can reduce a locomotive consist’s fuel consumption and carbon emissions by up to 30 per cent, even fully loaded in a mile-long train.

In Australia, Roy Hill will be getting the newest version of the FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive in 2023 with an energy capacity of 7 MWh. “We are committed to transforming the next generation of transportation by adopting advanced technologies that improve energy efficiency, lower operating costs and improve our rail and mining network,” said Gerhard Veldsman, CEO of Roy Hill. “The FLXdrive locomotive will be the first for the region and the first for the mining industry and will improve our rail operations from the mine to Port Hedland.”

Simon Pascoe, General Manager of Engineering for Roy Hill. “It has the horsepower to operate in a heavy haul train consist pulling loaded wagons with 35,000 tonnes of iron ore, while at the same time reducing the entire train’s fuel consumption. The FLXdrive also is designed to function in the extreme heat of the Pilbara region.”