Natural gas locomotives, only on the horizon a few years ago are now a reality, with lowered costs and lower emissions, albeit without the smell of diesel.
My posts on that natural gas powered farm tractors and boats and an earlier one on planes created quite a bit of interest so I decided readers might also be interested in natural gas locomotives and trains. I’ve been involved with rail transportation issues for many years, having helped set up our local short line railroad in Honesdale long ago as well as several others.
I’ve never been a rail fan per se (the kind who chases a train for hours to take pictures at every crossing) but I have some good, if occasionally grumpy, friends in that category who suddenly turn giddy at the mention of the four-letter word. I must also confess I do love the idea of rail and the sheer power of any locomotive. That power once came from coal and steam, of course, and later diesel, leading many modern rail fans to extol “the smell of diesel,” That smell isn’t going anywhere just yet, but more and more trains are running, or about to run, on natural gas as an alternative.
There is a “Natural Gas for High Horsepower Summit” planned for early November in Jacksonville, Florida that will include both a conference on and exposition of natural gas powered high horsepower equipment such as natural gas locomotives. Caterpillar, for example, is a major sponsor and the CEO of Florida East Coast Railway will be a presenter. Here’s a short video promoting the event:
Here’s some more background from the web page promoting the HHP Summit for railroaders:
There are more natural gas powered locomotives running in North America today than ever before, with frequent announcements of new pilot projects and deployments. From large Class I locomotives to regional short-lines, railroads are making strategic investment decisions in the fuel and technology that can offer the lowest cost operations over a typical 40-year asset life of a modern freight locomotive…
North America’s leading railroad giants continue to quietly test the waters with natural gas locomotive trials. Companies are evaluating both GE and Caterpillar gas engines, while running pilot LNG locomotives across the country to assess their durability in diverse climates. Additionally, Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad is converting 21 locomotives to Caterpillar dual-fuel CNG-diesel engines and Hexagon Lincoln Type IV CNG tanks.
Florida East Coast Rail began full-system, revenue-service trials of LNG last year, and with Federal Railroad Administration approvals now in hand, it continues to ramp up its LNG locomotive deployment efforts. The company has plans to convert its entire 24-unit mainline locomotive fleet to gas by mid-2017, and will build 13 tender cars to support its operations.
The development of the natural gas market for locomotives is not limited to operations in North America. International railroads are quickly moving forward with LNG and CNG projects of their own. This is spurred by different, and often simpler, regulatory requirements on the transport of natural gas by rail. In June 2016, Russian Railways struck an agreement with Russian gas supplier Gazprom to develop LNG fueling infrastructure at locations approved by Russian Railways to test 40 gas turbine-powered locomotives.
In December 2016, it was announced that Indian Railways will move forward with converting all of its existing locomotives to dual-fuel LNG engines, which will cut diesel consumption by 20%. The company has negotiated a long-term deal with PetronetLNG for fuel supply and is retrofitting locomotives with Cummins 1400 HP engines. It is clear from the number and diversity of rail operators looking at natural gas power around the world that this trend will only escalate as diesel prices rebound.
EPA Tier 4 emission standards for railroad locomotives, which became effective in 2015, require that emissions of PM and NOx be further reduced by about 90 percent from the Tier 3 standard. In order to reach the Tier 4 standard, many engine manufacturers are utilizing exhaust gas after-treatment technologies for diesel engines, such as particulate filters for PM control and urea-SCR for NOx emission control. In tandem with these new standards, the sulfur emissions allowable for diesel used in locomotives is limited to 15 ppm. The high cost of new diesel locomotives and low sulfur diesel make natural gas an even more appealing alternative, as natural gas engines typically exhibit lower NOx, PM, and CO2 emissions and natural gas fuel has low sulfur content.
In response to increasingly stringent regulations, engine technology continues to advance, providing cleaner and more efficient options – including those operating on natural gas. Fuel suppliers eyeing these energy-intensive operations, are rushing to develop additional fuel production capacity to meet the expected demand for CNG and LNG. New Fortress Energy, Pivotal LNG, Ferus, Questar, and many others are throwing their hats into the ring to vie for this potentially massive market.
GE Transportation has long been a manufacturer of locomotives and the company has developed NextFuel(TM) Natural Gas Retrofit Kits that enable its Evolution Series locomotives to operate with dual fuel capabilities. “This gives railroads flexibility to run on both diesel fuel and liquid natural gas (LNG) with up to 80 percent gas substitution as well as run 100 percent diesel. GE’s NextFuel kits allow railroads to use natural gas as a fuel source, reducing emissions and potentially reducing fuel costs by 50 percent while not compromising performance.”
And, here’s a video of a Florida East Coast Rail natural gas locomotive at work:
It’s an exciting time for natural gas locomotives, of both CNG and LNG types, and yet another example of how natural gas is starting to power the world of power.