Battery Electric Freight Trains can Help Reduce Emissions

Trains are great for efficiently moving freight long distances and are used the world over. Many regions already have all electric rail systems, but in North America electric adoption hasn’t happened. Historically, this has been due to the installation and maintenance costs for the vast distances of overhead electric wires. Advances in battery technology hopes to change this.

An American company, Wabtec, built and tested their FLXdrive engine last year and found it worked rather well. The engine is built on the same platform as their Diesel engines but runs off of batteries more powerful than a Tesla’s and can regenerate energy with braking.

However, the environmental benefits of rail have been undermined by the heavy reliance upon diesel to fuel freight trains, as well as a widespread preference among businesses to move goods via trucks rather than trains. This is a problem globally beyond the U.S. — the International Energy Agency has said that freight rail is “often neglected” in climate debates and currently carries only seven per cent of all freight moved around the world.

A greater tonnage of goods is now moved by trucks on roads than by rail, however, and the rail industry hopes action on the climate crisis will prove advantageous to its own prospects. “If we decarbonize all of the locomotives and decrease the number of trucks, we will get to where we need to be,” said Gebhardt. Medium and heavy-duty trucks are responsible for about a quarter of all U.S. emissions from transportation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than double the pollution emitted by aircraft.

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