The Case for Electrifying Freight Railroads by Half-Measures
Exeunt Diesels, Cue Battery-Electrics
Keywords:Rail freight, battery-electric locomotive, electrification, overhead catenary system, charge-in-motion
Changing attitudes, regulations, public policy, and international treaties regarding fossil fuels are likely to lead freight railroads towards carbon-neutral technologies, yet only electric traction matches the performance of diesel-electric locomotives. The tremendous power requirements of freight trains make efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions challenging, but the prospect of 7.2 megawatt-hour (MWh) battery-electric locomotives (BELs) offers promise, and intermittent electrification can facilitate battery charging.
Train performance calculations under simulated real-world conditions show two 14.5 MWh combination BELs can power 8,000-ton trains up to 230 mainline miles unassisted, with average energy consumption of 12.5 watt-hours/ton-mile. This permits discontinuous electrification of major freight lines, leaving “gaps” of up to 200 miles to reduce capital costs, especially in rugged terrain or where the power grid is sparse. Massive onboard battery arrays and intermittent access to the electrical grid for traction power and recharging provide great energy savings through recycling energy now lost when traveling downhill or braking. A case study of a hypothetical Class I railroad found intermittent electrification with BELs more than 60% more cost-effective than contiguous electric districts, and dramatically reduced engine changes.
To reduce railroad GHG emissions, governments must support technical development, show that electrification works in various North American settings, and develop institutional-financial frameworks to incentivize intermittent electrification with BELs, all in the context of massive environmental and capacity upgrades to electrical networks. Given proper assistance and incentives, early 21st century railroads may find discontinuous overhead-wire electrification offers great promise in operating terms.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Alex Lu, John G. Allen
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.