Fuel cell train research project begins

Jon Lawson

The California Energy Commission is investing US$4,000,000 to fund the design of a hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive. Sierra Northern Railway is the project leader with GTI as the formal applicant to the Commission. Other technical partners include Railpower Tech LLC, Ballard Power Systems, Optifuel Systems LLC, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Valley Vision, Velocity Strategies, the Southern California Gas Company and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

Kennan H. Beard III, President of Sierra Northern Railway said, “We are pleased to partner with this great team to build and test this innovative zero emission switching locomotive. We believe this project will help lead the switching locomotive industry to an emissions-free pathway in all ports in the State of California.”

The base machine is a tier 0 diesel locomotive which is being retired anyway. Short-line and switching locomotives account for a sizeable share of the total locomotive energy use within California as they carry a significant portion of freight and operate on the first and last miles of the national freight network. This makes short-line operations an ideal testbed for the demonstration of zero-emission technologies. Most switcher locomotives in California use an average of 50,000 gallons per year per switcher potentially leading to a reduction of more than 12 million gallons of diesel annually. 

The partners hope that this will be a suitable demonstrator project to show the integration of an advanced hydrogen fuel cell, storage, advanced battery and systems control technologies. The potential California market alone for new hydrogen locomotives includes more than 260 switcher locomotives and up to 500 intrastate locomotives.
The Sierra Railroad Company is also the principal owner of the Sierra Energy, which has developed waste-to-clean hydrogen technology called FastOx gasification. This research could prove important as the acquisition of hydrogen by fossil fuel methods is very energy intensive.  

• Read about fuel cell research for the marine environment here.



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