‘Eco’ Locomotive makes rail transportation even more attractive

By Maria Saporta

The most fuel-efficient mode of transportation is becoming even more efficient.

Norfolk Southern on Sept. 1 unveiled its new “Eco” Locomotive, a technological advancement that will further reduce reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency for transporting freight by rail.

“The efforts by Norfolk Southern in designing and building these locomotives will lead to cleaner air in Atlanta,” said Beverly Banister, a division director for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4.

Banister explained the federal government contributed $38 million to the entire project – about two-thirds of the overall cost to build 10 paired locomotives. Norfolk Southern paid for the rest – a true public-private partnership.

“It is a great investment,” Banister said. “It’s great for Atlanta because Atlanta has challenges with its air.”

Norfolk Southern Eco locomotive

Norfolk Southern’s “Eco” locomotives line up at Inman Yard for their unveiling on Sept. 1 (Photos by Maria Saporta)

Mark Manion, Norfolk Southern’s chief operating officer and an executive vice president, explained that there are two locomotives coupled together – a mother and a mate. The “mother” serves as a diesel power plant for the locomotive with an alternator that converts the power into electricity. On the axels, there are traction motors that increase the locomotives’ efficiency.

These locomotives are between 18 to 25 percent more efficient than traditional locomotives,” according to Mark Duve, Norfolk Southern’s mechanical engineer – locomotive.

Traditional locomotives can move one ton of freight up to 450 miles on one gallon of fuel. That means the “Eco” locomotives can carry one ton of freight between 530 to 560 miles on one gallon.

Duve explained why trains are so much more fuel efficient than trucks.

Joel Harrell and Mark Manion

Norfolk Southern’s Joel Harrell and Mark Manion share stories at launch of Eco locomotive

“Steel wheel on steel rail has less friction, so it takes less energy to move freight on rail,” Duve said. “With tire and pavement, there’s lots of friction, so you need more energy to move freight on highways than rail.”

Duve said that the engines on locomotives are bigger, which allow for greater efficiency. And lastly, because a train has several cars stacked behind each other, there is less drag between the cars, which also saves fuel. By comparison, most trucks carry only one trailer, meaning they face greater wind resistance.

As a result, studies have shown that trains with traditional locomotives are about four times more fuel efficient than trucks and have fewer emissions of pollutants in the air.

Even the trucking industry has realized the benefits of rail.

“Trucking companies are lining up at the door wanting to move long-haul freight by rail,” Manion said.

So here are the facts. It is far better for the environment and far more fuel efficient to move more freight by rail than over roads. Obviously the same would be true in moving people.

fuel saving rail truck

Comparing fuel consumption of rail versus truck – click to enlarge  (Source: Rocky Mountain Institute)

In order to get more freight and passenger traffic to move on rail, we as a nation should invest – in a public-private venture with the railroads – in upgrading our rail infrastructure.

That means fewer at-grade crossings, more doubling tracking, straightening out sharp curves to achieve faster speeds and making sure the tracks are in first-class shape.

Those investments would allow the trains to reach faster speeds, which would allow them to deliver more perishable items in a timely manner and make railroads less dependent on moving commodities like coal.

It also would make it possible our rail corridors to carry passengers and freight – providing energy efficient alternatives to cars, trucks and planes.

Manion said the Class A railroads already have been investing more than $2 billion a year in their infrastructure – and even more than that in the past couple of years.

“We invest about 17 to 18 percent of our revenues on capital improvements every year,” he said. “It’s quite a commitment.”

Manion did sound open to making room for passenger trains if there were upgrades in the nation’s railroad infrastructure.

Eco locomotive

Norfolk Southern’s Eco Locomotive

“There’s a balance here,” he said. “If there were to be enough infrastructure, then freight and passenger could co-exist. There’s got to be enough investment because we have commitments to our freight customers with our on-time performance.”

If we invested to improve our rail infrastructure, every one will win. Freight customers will get better service. People would have more options on how to get around. We would be able to save fuel. And we would be able to lower our emissions – reducing air pollution.

“We have done many things to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Bruno Maestri, Norfolk Southern’s vice president of government relations, corporate communications and sustainability. “In the last five years we have reduced it by 8.5 percent, and we are about to reduce it by another big chunk in the next five years. The ‘Eco’ locomotives will be part of that.”

Just imagine how much good that could happen in our country if our railroads and governments could dream big and partner together.

Note to readers: Next week, my column will look at the unique role railroads can play in the sustainable redevelopment of our cities and towns.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

6 replies
  1. writes_of_weigh says:

    I see no mention of Norfolk Southern investing in electrified mainlines for it’s Eastern U.S. rail network, which coincidentally junctions at many Northeastern points with Amtrak’s electrified Northeast Corridor. Such investments, when one considers the multiple potential sources for powering that electrification, suggest that Norfolk Southern, whose predecessor Southern Railway once touted that it “Gives the green light to innovation”, is presently incapable of little more than slightly more efficiently burning fossilized dinosaurs and vegetation in these new “eco” friendly locomotives. What about electrifying their Savannah-Macon-Atlanta-Chattanooga mainline, and powering the route only with renewable sources(i.e. solar, wind, etc.)?Report

    Reply
  2. writes_of_weigh says:

    Burroughston Broch writes_of_weigh Through utilization of current Southern Company/Georgia Power back-up/peak demand “topping” resources from their extensive lake/dam hydro assets and “our” a-building “nuke” plants at Vogtle. Should the sun not shine nor the wind blow for extended periods, it won’t matter anyway.Report

    Reply
  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    writes_of_weigh Burroughston Broch  The total capacity of Georgia Power’s hydro plants is 845mW and they are used only for peak power generation. The fossil fuel generation capacity is 15,154mW and the nuclear capacity is 4,156mW; all are used for base load generation. The extensive hydro you tout is only 4% of the total.
    You also ignore that NSC is a freight carrier and electrification of freight is financially impractical. Here is a post on the subject: http://reasonrail.blogspot.com/2012/05/why-freight-will-never-electrify.html
    With today’s low oil prices I can safely predict you will never see your fantasy achieved.Report

    Reply
  4. writes_of_weigh says:

    Maria,

     Romanticism is not dead, but attempting to link a few “eco” locomotives to a rebirth of railroads is a wee bit optimistic, given that under suspected collusion with it’s K street lobbyists'(whom the FBI is “watching” in the matter for other substantial reasons)the U.S. railroads have “thrown in the towel” on their ability to legally operate the nations freight, commuter and (in large part) inter-city passenger rail system. You may recall that I have previously written in response to various topics which arise on this blog, about railroad safety issues and the looming December 31, 2015 implementation of Positive Train Control across most of the nations’ mainlines. This, make no mistake, is a legal deadline brought about, in no small measure, because of numerous derailments, collisions, and unsafe operating conditions, which without adequate and substantial Federal rail safety oversight, has cost far too much in lives lost, equipment lost, and Gross Domestic Product trashed. The railroads have had, by some estimates (N.T.S.B., etc…), nearly five decades to plan for and implement this life saving technology, but, have found it more compelling to entertain investors and analysts at place like Sun Valley, ID, Augusta (the Masters), GA, Winter Park, CO., Palatka, FL, Essex, MT and Brosnan Forest, SC, and numerous other entertainment venues the railroads choose to maintain as opposed to maintaining their tracks, equipment, and safety systems. About two weeks ago, curiously nearly all of the nations major railroads issued press releases, nearly simultaneously, decrying their “short time frame” to fully install and equip their operating properties with the legally mandated P.T.C. technology, and instead “cry wolf” about the costs of so doing, and instead resort to “blackmailing” our elected representatives, who we charge with enforcing mandates found in places like the Federal Code, which if enforced, could potentially make our lives much safer, and provide for better GDP return. “Eco” locomotives will still be nice, though, even if they are being operated by our military transportation corps, or by “designated operators” under the auspices of a “new” U.S. Railway Administration.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?