BNSF Railway Co. yesterday announced plans to begin testing liquefied natural gas (LNG) on a small number of locomotives later this year.
The Class I has been working with locomotive builders GE Transportation and Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. to develop the natural-gas engine technology that will be used in the pilot.
"The use of liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel is a potential transformational change for our railroad and for our industry," said BNSF Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Matt Rose in an announcement posted on the Class I's website. "While there are daunting technical and regulatory challenges still to be faced, this pilot project is an important first step that will allow BNSF to evaluate the technical and economic viability of the use of liquefied natural gas in through-freight service, potentially reducing fuel costs and greenhouse-gas emissions."
The use of natural gas in long-haul locomotives is more operationally feasible today because of improved economics and technology, BNSF officials said. The pilot will be a first step in considering how LNG could be implemented, although several significant regulatory challenges need to be addressed, they said.
"The changed market for natural gas in the United States is a critical part of our decision to explore it as a locomotive fuel," said Rose. "We will be working with the equipment manufacturers, the various regulatory agencies and government officials to address the necessary actions to accomplish this."
BNSF and its predecessors have explored the use of natural gas in the past. The former Burlington Northern Railroad used natural gas-powered locomotives in the 1980s and 1990s, and BNSF tested LNG-powered switchers in Los Angeles until they reached the end of their useful life a few years ago.
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