Rail freight manufacturer Wabtec Corporation introduces what is described to be the world’s first battery-electric freight train in Pittsburgh, advancing the decarbonisation of the global railway industry. 

“The world’s first battery-electric freight train” was unveiled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 10, paving the way for decarbonised locomotive transportation.

The electric train, known as FLXdrive Battery Locomotive, is a new venture between rail freight manufacturer Wabtec Corporation and Carnegie Mellon University, to develop zero emissions technology in the high-polluting transport industry.

The US transports more than 1.7bn tons of goods on its railroad systems every year. Based on successful trials in California, the 75ft-long electric train could slash fuel consumption by 11%, equivalent to 6,200 gallons of diesel. Greenhouse gas emissions would also be reduced considerably with the development of accompanying hydrogen fuel cells. 

The battery system of the electric train uses kinetic energy of its own braking to recharge, reusing energy that would normally be lost as excess heat. Theoretically, the battery will never run based on this system,  and its current iteration is already “100 times the power and energy within a Tesla,” according to Wabtec’s chief technology officer, Eric Gebhardt. FLXdrive is also said to be capable of hauling 195,000kg of goods, could run up to 120km per hour, and travel 560km

Australian mining company Roy Hill was first in line to purchase the FLXdrive Battery Locomotive. The company will receive the second-generation version of the electric train in 2023, which will have an energy capacity of 7 megawatt hours. 

Wabtec estimates that global widespread use of the technology could cut as much as 300m tones of greenhouse gas emissions a year, nearly halving what the US currently emits. Some US lawmakers have already suggested investing $600 million from Congress‘ reconciliation bill in a freight rail innovation to help cut emissions from the railway sector.

“We are trying really hard to get it into the bigger bill,” US Senator Bob Casey told the Guardian. “We are in a race against irreversible climate change and rail is part of the strategy to cut emissions,” 

However, electrifying transport freight trains might only make a small dent in carbon emissions as the majority of the US businesses prefer transporting goods using trucks rather than freight trains

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, while transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the country in 2019, rail only contributes to 2% to the sector whereas medium- and heavy-duty trucks make up 24% of the sector’s carbon emission. 

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Featured image by: Wabtec Corporation