All Aboard! Next Stop, A Battery-Powered Future

Think trains are a relic of the past? Think about these facts:


  • Even today, 42 percent of the nation’s freight is moved by train.
  • While there are fewer than 7 Class I railroads left in the United States, these 7 railroads account for 92 percent of the industry’s freight revenue.
  • On average, a train can move a ton of freight 436 miles on a single gallon on fuel – and some trains can do better than that.
  • Locomotives used as part of intermodel transportation account for 22 percent of rail revenue.

If these numbers don’t convince you that trains are still highly relevant, how about this? In the future, imagine locomotives that no longer belch steam and smoke of years past, nor the diesel haze of today. Instead, imagine a future where locomotives are powered by highly efficient advanced battery technologies. Locomotives are here to stay when it comes to distributing goods throughout the country – the question is, how will they be powered?

Currently, locomotive diesel engines contribute significantly to air pollution in numerous locations across the country. In 2008, the EPA released a set of emissions standards for locomotives to help curb this air pollution. While we’re set to enter a higher level of standards in 2015, which will greatly reduce particulate matter and NOx emissions, locomotives are still emitting significant toxins into the environment and will continue to do so as long as they are powered by diesel fuel.

What if, instead of polluting the air, locomotives could operate without emissions? The NS 999, developed by Norfolk Southern (NS), is the first all-electric battery-powered locomotive, with zero emissions, regenerative braking opportunities and it’s powered by Axion’s advanced PbC® batteries.. As NS explains in the NS Sustainability Report 2013, “In 2013, we plan to roll out the next generation NS 999, outfitted with a bank of more technologically advanced hybrid lead-carbon batteries developed by industry partner Axion Power International.” These zero emissions locomotives represent a direct, ‘one for one’ ratio, opportunity to reduce overall emissions. For example, if 20% of locomotives substituted battery power to replace diesel power, the environment would reap the benefit of a full 20% reduction in emissions.

Of course, locomotives are a very expensive capital investment for railroads, and as such, they are continuously scheduled for heavy duty work loads. So the likelihood of immediately switching out all conventional diesel engines for hybrid battery models is remote. However, an attractive option for rail companies might be to convert their diesel models during scheduled cyclical maintenance and overhaul periods when the locomotives are off the road anyway. And it is not that difficult to convert diesel-electric locomotives to battery power and typically, these locomotives cost up to 55% less to operate.

So even though it may sound impressive to move a ton of freight 436 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel, get ready for something even better. In the future, trains will be able to move that same ton of freight, over that same 436 miles, without any diesel fuel – and with zero emissions. Are you on board?

Article contributed on behalf of Axiom Power International, Inc. and re-posted in agreement with EarthTechling.

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