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Rail News: Mechanical

Ballard fuel cells to power Sierra Northern's hydrogen switcher locomotive

Sierra Northern Railway switching locomotive.
Photo – CNW Group/Ballard Power Systems Inc.


Ballard Power Systems yesterday announced it would provide fuel-cell modules to Sierra Northern Railway to power a zero-emission switching locomotive.

A purchase order for the fuel cell modules is expected to be issued by Sierra Northern by mid-year. The pilot program will be partially funded by a $4 million grant from the California Energy Commission. Sierra Northern is the freight division of privately owned Sierra Energy Corp.

Sierra plans to retire a diesel locomotive and replace it with a zero-emission switching locomotive powered by 200-kilowatts of Ballard's FCmove®-HD fuel-cell module and involving the integration of hydrogen storage together with advanced battery and systems-control technologies, Ballard officials said in a press release.

Ballard plans to deliver the fuel-cell modules to Sierra by 2022, and the short line intends to put the locomotive into service in 2023, they said.

The new hydrogen-fueled switching locomotive will displace the need for conventional diesel, which will help improve local air quality and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, noise and odor.

The program will establish a platform for widespread deployment in California, where more than 260 switching locomotives and up to 500 intrastate locomotives are now in service.

Ballard will participate in the program with a multi-company team and provide applications engineering and field support throughout a six-month demonstration. The switching locomotive will be refueled at a new hydrogen station to be constructed by Royal Dutch Shell plc.

"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," said Sierra Northern Railway President Kennan Beard III.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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