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Compiled by Julie Sneider, Senior Associate Editor
Fuel consumes a considerable portion of railroads’ budgets. Finding ways to reduce fuel usage is always a priority — both to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2018, U.S. railroads moved a ton of freight an average of 473 miles per gallon of fuel, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). On average, railroads are three to four times more fuel efficient than trucks, AAR says.
Still, railroads don’t want to rest on their fuel efficiency laurels. They’re continuing to tap technology to further reduce diesel usage and fuel costs.
What fuel management products and services do railroads have at their disposal? Progressive Railroading reached out to a cross-section of suppliers to tell us what’s new, as well as tried and true, on the technology development front. Following are summaries of seven emailed responses.
The Hotstart Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) heating system is a self-contained water/coolant and oil preheater for locomotive prime movers. Powered by a Tier 4 Final Yanmar engine, the APU consumes a fraction of the fuel an idling locomotive uses, Hotstart officials said.
Nineteen kilowatts of total heating power is supplied for locomotive, lube oil and optional operator cab heating. The APU also supplies 80 amps of battery charging power via a heavy-duty alternator.
By providing heat to the engine and lubrication oil, the Hotstart APU allows locomotives to shut down in any location at any time while retaining the ability to restart immediately — even in the coldest conditions. Designed from the ground up to work seamlessly according to a locomotive’s day-to-day operations, the APU includes an easy-to-use operator interface, automatic operation and integration capability with automatic engine start stop systems (AESS), Hotstart officials said.
Eliminating unnecessary idling and maintaining optimal start-up temperatures for both critical engine components and oil reduces fuel and oil consumption, emissions, noise pollution, engine wear and wet-stacking, they said.
Operating longer trains while reducing fuel and equipment costs is essential to today’s railroads.
New York Air Brake Corp.’s (NYAB) Locomotive Engineer Assist/Display & Event Recorder (LEADER®) AutoControl™ is an on-board train control and energy management system deployed on more than 5,000 locomotives worldwide.
LEADER delivers “superior” train handling capabilities, company officials said. It performs on-board simulations to reduce dynamic and static in-train forces, thus providing precise control to optimize train performance and deliver fuel savings of 6 percent or more.
Safely running long, heavy trains is of great interest in the precision scheduled railroading world as railroads seek to maximize asset utilization. NYAB customers report they are running longer, heavier trains with no derailments or break-in-twos, and credit LEADER’s ability to accurately predict run-in and run-out impacts and take action in real time to minimize in-train forces, regardless of power distribution or consist, company officials said.
LEADER can accept change orders or adapt to other operating conditions in real time. The system also is designed to precisely control distributed power, particularly asynchronous distributed power, resulting in further opportunities to minimize in-train forces, improve safety and save fuel, NYAB officials said.
Historically, idling has been viewed as a necessary evil for locomotives in freezing winter temperatures. Idling keeps the engine warm, but wastes fuel and increases emissions. The idle reduction technology of the PowerHouse™ by Power Drives Inc. addresses that issue.
The PowerHouse can heat and circulate locomotive coolant through the heat exchanger, maintaining water temperature above 100 degrees F, even in the coldest temperatures. It significantly decreases energy wasted through idling. As a result, it delivers the benefits of increased fuel savings and reduced noise and air pollution, Power Drives officials said.
The PowerHouse is an EPA SmartWay-verified technology, compliant with EPA Tier 4 emission standards. It is available in two operating models: the APU and the 120. The 120 model is used when locomotives have ready access to 120-volt (5-amps) shore power. The unit comes with oil circulation and remote monitoring capabilities.
The APU model is a modular, two-piece device that offers installation flexibility and is ideal for road haul and run-through locomotives, Power Drives officials said. The APU also includes standard remote monitoring for access to real-time operating data, and charges the locomotive battery bank while the prime mover is shut down. Heat for the APU is provided by a diesel-fired heater instead of electrical elements, which results in significantly less maintenance, company officials said.
Progress Rail is striving to place more emphasis on its digital suite of connected solutions. Energy management and train automation is at the forefront of those digital tools.
Progress Rail’s TALOS™ Energy Management system uses machine learning and massive computing power to analyze and optimize train routes, train types and train health, resulting in significant improvements for fuel and time, company officials said. Additionally, SmartConsist™ is designed to set each locomotive to its individual, prime throttle position within a consist to improve overall fuel economy, reduce emissions, and achieve required power and tractive effort.
By adapting to train behavior, TALOS can deliver higher fuel savings, reduced emissions, improved train handling for safer operation and increased network capacity for railroads, Progress Rail officials said.
Leveraging operational data to reinvent how a railroad operates can save thousands of gallons of fuel by detecting potential problems before they occur, according to the company. In response, Progress Rail’s Uptime® Suite can be used to more effectively manage operations. Advanced asset monitoring combines with Progress Rail’s Locomotive Monitoring Center expertise to offer customized reports and streamline data delivery, company officials said.
With the enhanced capabilities to assess engine system health and determine “fuel hogs,” as well as provide virtual load testing and a fleet-level fuel management dashboard, Uptime “remains a critical element” to maintaining an efficient locomotive fleet, they said.
There are more than 10,000 locomotives with FDL engines in operation today with up to 500 overhauls scheduled per year. It is a large market representing a tremendous opportunity to reduce emissions and operating costs for the rail industry, Wabtec Corp. officials said.
At Railway Interchange 2019, Wabtec introduced the FDL Advantage, an engine performance upgrade to the existing FDL engine that’s designed to provide significant fuel savings at the Tier 1-plus emission level.
Railroads that use FDL Advantage could register fuel savings of up to 5 percent and corresponding carbon-dioxide reductions on an engine that has been in production since the 1950s. For a locomotive consuming 200,000 gallons, that could mean $25,000 savings per asset per year, company officials said.
FDL Advantage features improved air handling and injection control — updates that allow for improved tuning of the engine, they said.
In addition, other design elements have been incorporated to improve the product’s reliability. Wabtec plans to roll out FDL Advantage later this year.
Meanwhile, Wabtec’s Trip Optimizer, which has been available since 2009, is a smart train cruise control system that takes into account terrain, train makeup and speed restrictions to calculate an optimum speed plan. It then automatically controls locomotive throttle and dynamic brakes to the plan. Trip Optimizer is EPA-certified to save 10 percent of fuel.
Currently installed on more than 11,000 Wabtec locomotives globally, the device has saved 400 million gallons of fuel, the company estimates.
Since fuel is their second-largest operating expense, railroads are tapping into the benefits of connected platforms to make huge strides in fuel management, Wi-Tronix LLC officials said.
With real-time, full-fleet information at their fingertips — coupled with cost-effective analytics tools — railroads are gaining great returns on their technology investments, they said. Fleetwide, the monitoring of fuel consumption includes analytics of train operation efficiency, comparison reports, fuel refill tracking and complete train reporting for all locomotives.
The Wi-Tronix Violet Edge Fuel Management Solution is designed to provide real-time, accurate, reliable data and diagnostics on such parameters as locomotive idling time and fuel tank levels. The system also offers comparisons among asset and crew data from HPTT, APU, AESS, EMS and other systems.
The Violet Edge enables railroad personnel to make real-time adjustments for optimal fuel consumption, ultimately decreasing fuel costs and increasing operating efficiencies, Wi-Tronix officials said.
The ZTR SmartStart® helps reduce locomotive idling and increase fuel savings. Known as one of the industry’s first Automatic Engine Start Stop (AESS) systems, SmartStart also provides remote reporting of fuel and emissions reductions, said ZTR Control Systems officials.
The system has a return on investment of less than 12 months and can save North American railroads 1.5 million gallons of fuel every month, they said.
Also available: the ZTR InteLevel®, which is designed to accurately provide locomotive fuel management in tough railway conditions. The evaluation technology offers solid state electronics and wave-guided pulses for precise locomotive fuel measurements that help railroads better understand usage as well as protect against fuel theft.
The InteLevel system is designed for the rigors of railroading, therefore its accuracy is unaffected by foam, rust, scale or other commonly found tank conditions, ZTR officials said.
In addition, it can handle a railroad’s mechanical, environmental and temperature extremes, they said. The system also provides remote connectivity to fuel management data so railroads can better manage the fuel levels of their entire fleet.
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