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— by Michael Popke
Talk to freight locomotive manufacturers, and they'll tell you that increased demand for operator safety and operational efficiency are driving today's innovations. They'll also say they are continuing to develop environmentally friendly generator sets (GenSets) and testing the viability of liquefied natural gas (LNG) technology. Moreover, they're testing and fine-tuning units that comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Tier 4 emission standard that took effect Jan. 1.
Last month, Progressive Railroading checked in with representatives from six locomotive manufacturers to discuss technology and marketplace trends. Their responses, gleaned from phone and email interviews, follow.
Progress Rail Services Corp. subsidiary Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. has always been in growth mode, says Marty Haycraft, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of locomotive and railcar services for Progress Rail and North America sales for EMD. But in recent years, EMD has "taken it to another level," he says.
The growth has been especially notable in the international marketplace. In late 2014, the company completed delivery of 13 Class 66 locomotives to GB Railfreight in the United Kingdom. That order was on top of the railroad's purchase of eight Class 66 locomotives from EMD in 2013. But the order uptick has been evident in North America, as well. Last fall, Ferrocarril Mexicano S.A. de C.V. (Ferromex) also purchased 19 of EMD's SD70ACe units, bringing its total SD70ACe fleet to 116. Introduced in 2005, the 4,300-horsepower locomotives feature radial trucks, distributed power and the EMD Q-cab for increased operator comfort and safety.
Additionally, Ferromex sister railroad Ferrosur S.A. de C.V. announced its first order of EMD locomotives with the purchase of 15 SD70ACe units, which will feature a special design for tunnel operations enhancements.
EMD officials also continue to work on the company's Tier 4-compliant locomotive, with a prototype expected to be available for testing later this year. The unit should be ready for purchase during the second half of 2016, Haycraft says.
Meanwhile, the manufacturer last fall signed a strategic agreement with Seeing Machines Ltd. to provide in-cab operator fatigue and distraction monitoring systems that can be retrofitted on existing locomotives and offered as an option on new units. The technology is based on patented eye-tracking and analytics via operator-facing cameras and accelerometer sensors that detect driver distraction and fatigue. Following a previously announced pact with Caterpillar Global Mining, the agreement will enable Seeing Machines and EMD to develop and adapt the technology for the rail industry.
EMD also is focused on diagnostics, developing Intellitrain 2.0, an iteration of the company's fully integrated remote monitoring and asset tracking system that's scheduled to be introduced in 2016. "We're hearing loud and clear from our customers that reliability and efficiency are driving their total cost of ownership," Haycraft says.
In 2014, GE Transportation secured orders for 1,000 Evolution® Series Tier 4-compliant locomotives to deliver over the next several years. Tier 4 requires builders to reduce diesel engines' nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions by 76 percent and particulate emissions by 70 percent compared with engines introduced in 2005.
" was certainly a very healthy year for us," says Tina Donikowski, GE's vice president of locomotive/marine, stationary and drill.
Last year, five Evolution Series Tier 4 units underwent "extreme testing" in heavy-haul, high-speed and high-ambient conditions, and shipping is expected to begin in this year's second half, she says. The locomotives are powered by GE's 12-cylinder EVO engine and require no aftertreatment system.
GE also sold 24 new ES44C4 locomotives to Florida East Coast Railway LLC (FECR). The ES44C4 locomotive is designed to meet EPA Tier 3 emission requirements, and FECR eventually plans to use LNG technology to power the units, Donikowski says.
Natural gas-fueled locomotives can travel longer distances without requiring refueling stops — making LNG an ideal fuel alternative for FECR's 351-mile mainline heavy-haul service between Jacksonville and Miami, Donikowski says. Meanwhile, officials from CSX Corp., BNSF Railway Co. and GE have been exploring and testing the emissions-cutting and efficiency breakthroughs generated by LNG, and more tests are required.
At InnoTrans 2014, GE showcased RailConnect 360, a connected suite of customizable, data-driven software solutions developed to meet industry challenges. One of those solutions is Trip Optimizer, a state-of-the-art onboard train control system that functions much like an aircraft's auto-pilot by learning a train's characteristics, creating an optimal trip profile, and then automatically controlling throttle and dynamic brake to reduce fuel burn and ensure safe training handling for locomotives — all while allowing for constant operator supervision and a return-to-control option at any time, according to GE.
"As in every industry, the quest for greater efficiency and productivity is paramount with our customers," Donikowski says. "So we're trying to do more with the assets customers have. We're fostering the marriage of data and analytics with big, hulking pieces of hardware."
National Railway Equipment Co. (NRE) is coming off an "extremely busy year," says Keith Batley, NRE assistant vice president of North American sales. So busy that from an order standpoint, "we had some difficulties getting all of the larger projects out the door in 2014," he adds. "Those will be getting through in 2015."
NRE introduced three new locomotives in 2013, including a Tier 4-compliant switch engine; a twin-engine, 3,600-horsepower Tier 3-compliant locomotive; and a remanufactured SD40-4 with independent axle control adhesion. In 2014, NRE received orders for 20 GenSets and orders for at least 10 more were placed in early 2015, Batley says.
The company's rebuild business has picked up, too, with the focus on new engine, power assembly and microprocessor installations. "We seem to be getting more effective at letting customers know where our strengths lie," Batley says.
Some of NRE's biggest news came via BNSF's ongoing testing of the manufacturer's high-adhesion NR33CDE-IAC locomotive. The modified six-axle SD40 locomotive weighs 385,000 pounds fully fueled and contains an NRE-remanufactured, 3,300-horsepower 645E3-AR10-D78s extended DB propulsion platform. Equipped with NRE's NFORCE microprocessor, traction control card and independent axle control modules, the locomotive achieves a 34 percent tractive effort, according to NRE. In heavy trailing tonnage, high-usage operation, the IAC saves fuel and reduces maintenance costs, Batley says.
The operational testing of the IAC locomotive NRE 4321 showed promising results at BNSF's Galesburg, Ill., hump yard, suggesting that the railroad could achieve significant fuel savings by reducing the three-locomotive hump set by one unit using this technology, according to an NRE press release.
NRE also is focusing on efficiency and reliability by incorporating GPS and conditioned-based monitoring packages into new builds. The aim: to help customers diagnose failures.
"This kind of information should be available for all of a railroad's high-asset, expensive pieces of equipment," Batley says.
Some of R. J. Corman Railpower's customers delayed locomotive purchases last year because of product specification changes and government funding issues, a company spokesman says. Amidst the delays, the company's most popular locomotives among Class Is were four- to six-axle, Tier 3-compliant units, the spokesman adds. Railpower officials expect customers that put off purchases last year will buy this year. The company also is involved in several Tier 3 rebuilds, the spokesman says.
Meanwhile, Railpower's Tier 4-compliant low-to-medium horsepower locomotives are configured with GenSets from Deutz or Cummins, or single engines from Cummins, and feature a variety of aftertreatment options. Like Railpower's Tier 3 locomotive family, the company's Tier 4 locomotives feature high-performance PowerPlus Traction and LogicPlus Control systems that allow customers to achieve at least 33 percent adhesion "in even the worst of conditions," according to a company press release.
Railpower customers are demanding more data to help them streamline efficiencies, the spokesman says. To that end, Railpower's remote data portal offers customers access to enhanced diagnostics and data packages.
Railserve Inc., which manufactures the LEAF® GenSet Locomotive, is coming off of a record sales and shipping year, says TJ Mahoney, LEAF program manager.
For example, Brookhaven Rail Terminal and Brookhaven Rail purchased Railserve's DUAL LEAF® locomotive, which uses two single Cummins QSX15-L3-600 horsepower GenSets to minimize fuel usage and reduce emissions while maintaining the performance of a traditional switching locomotive. The DUAL LEAF is programmed to operate with only one GenSet under lighter loads, further reducing both fuel use and emissions, according to the company. The locomotive reduces NOx and particulate matter emissions by 84 percent and meets EPA emission standards for Tier 3 diesel engines. It also reduces fuel consumption by up to 60 percent compared with a conventional locomotive, according to Railserve.
Fairmont Santrol also purchased and deployed a LEAF GenSet locomotive at its resin-coating plants in Roff, Okla., where the unit uses 50 percent less diesel fuel to move six times the number of rail cars around the two plants. And Duke Energy secured four LEAF diesel-electric locomotives that were expected to cut engine emissions by up to 75 percent while hauling coal at some of the company's North Carolina power plants, according to a Charlotte Business Journal story.
"Most of the customers that purchase from us place a strong value on sustainable operations and are looking to reduce their carbon footprint," Mahoney says.
Efficiency rates high among customers, too, which is why Railserve rolled out a remote monitoring system for its LEAF GenSets that provides real-time, mission-critical performance data to improve safety and operating efficiency. The Observe/Analyze/Respond™ (OAR) technology developed by Alternative Motive Power Systems allows multiple users to track a wide range of operating data from remote locations.
Although Brookville Equipment Corp. did not receive orders for new freight units in 2014 — the manufacturer focused on filling orders it secured in 2013 for passenger-rail and streetcar projects — 2015 is off to a strong start, says company marketing specialist Adam Mohney. Among those projects is a rebuild program for seven GP-35 maintenance locomotives. The company also will ship a 500-horsepower diesel-hydraulic yard switcher and two 1,200-horsepower CoGeneration™ GenSets to Central California Traction Co. in 2015, Mohney says.
A variation of Brookville's BL21CG and BL14CG units, the CoGens will feature two 600-horsepower GenSets from Cummins that meet Tier 4 emission requirements. The locomotives weigh 134 tons each, and their engines have the capability to go online or offline depending on current power needs, significantly reducing fuel consumption, Mohney says.
The BL05 diesel-hydraulic yard switcher features a 500-horsepower engine and is suited for short heavy-haul applications at lower speeds. It includes a four-speed transmission, torque convertor, drive shafts and planetary final drive. Customer interest in this niche two- and four-axle line is increasing, Mohney says. "One of our advantages as a custom manufacturer is that we are willing to take on niche products and work with other short lines to upgrade very small fleets," he adds.
Brookville also is upgrading locomotives with traction control systems that improve efficiency without requiring a full rebuild or even a mild refresh.
Michael Popke is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis. Email comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.