Metra to convert locomotives to battery power

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MisterUptempo

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Metra's board yesterday approved a plan to convert up to six of the Chicago commuter railroad's oldest diesel locomotives to zero-emission battery power.

The railroad's contract with Progress Rail Services Corp. calls for a base order of three locomotives, with options for three additional units, Metra officials said in a press release. The total cost for all six conversions — which will be completed at Progress Rail's facility in Patterson, Georgia — is $34.6 million. The base order is expected to take three-and-a-half years to complete.

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Metra plans to test the new locomotives — which will have an estimated range of 150 miles per charge — on the Rock Island Line. Charging stations will be designed later and placed in the main yard and at a yet-to-be-determined outlying point.
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Here's a link to the story from Progressive Railroading

Even though it will take 3 and a half years (or more) to get these electric locos onto the Rock Island tracks, I hope Progress would be able to provide specs about performance sooner than that, most particularly with regards to acceleration, as well as cold weather performance.
 
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Has battery technology advanced to the point where an operator can reliably replace proven equipment over the road? If I were running things, I might buy a few to experiment with them, but I wouldn't make a commitment to replace a large part of my fleet until I was sure the things worked.

If battery technology does ever get to the point that its performance and reliability is equivalent to diesel and overhead/third rail, I would definitely adopt it to replace the existing stuff. But I am skeptical that we're at that point yet, or anytime soon.
 
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Get the lithium ion battery fire problem solved before putting these engines in Union Station!
If you have a little bit more space, you can use Lithium Iron Phosphate. When people hear Lithium Ion, they automatically think of many of the Lithium batteries (usually together with Nickel or Cobalt) that have higher energy density but have the fire issue. Given the space in a locomotive shell, it may be feasible to store more than adequate amounts of energy for the needs of this application without using that type of batteries. LiFePO4 does not have the fire issue.
 
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To me, all of this battery talk and action just fails to face the reality that America needs overhead electrification and EMU’s.
Exactly! Trains are just too dang heavy to sensibly be run on battery power (and will be twice as heavy with the batteries). Caternary wires are the obvious solution. I say that as a strong proponent of electric bicycles for personal urban transport.
 

west point

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A history of battery powered locos wold be interesting. It seems every few years some proposd battery locos come out. Run a very few years . Then are quietly retired before being worn out.
 

MisterUptempo

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To me, all of this battery talk and action just fails to face the reality that America needs overhead electrification and EMU’s.
Derwinski has advocated for electrification, starting with the Rock Island.

As they are placing an initial order for only 3 battery locos, it may be a matter of them trying them out, kind of knowing it might fall short of expectations, leaving electrification as the next logical step.

One of the requirements is that the loco has to be able to run at a max speed of 79MPH. In Progress Rail's current "Joule" line of battery freight locos, only one, the SD-70J, can get anywhere close to that speed at 75MPH, and it weighs 428,000 lbs, as opposed to the F40's standard weight of 275,000 lbs.

Metra's recent strategy for acquiring locomotives can best be described as odd, purchasing a bunch of hand-me-downs, then taking delivery this spring of the first of 15 (with an option for 27 more) SD70MACHs, a 6-axle freight loco rebuilt to Tier 3, and now these battery-operated jobs.
 
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George Harris

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This whole "convert . . . diesel locomotives to zero-emission battery power." leaves me wanting to scream, "HOW DO YOU GET THE ELECTRICITY???" Do these people think electricity just magically appears? The emissions may not be at the point of use, but there will be some emissions somewhere to produce the electricity, and even if you think you can get enough from wind and solar, you still have to manufacture the components needed to produce it. By the way, for both wind and solar, you must have significant battery capacity for backup, as these are hardly reliably consistent power sources.

As to the case in hand, converting diesel locomotives to battery power is relatively straightforward, as the reality is that power to the wheels is already provided by electric motors, so all you are really doing is taking out the diesel engine and putting in large batteries.
 
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Almost half of the electricity in the country already comes from non greenhouse gas producing methods. Hydro and nuclear are a large part of that. of course. And more and more of the generated electricity from fossil fuels comes from production that is much more energy efficient than before, like combined cycle natural gas plants. So generated electricity right now transmitted and stored in a battery and used for driving electric motors is already generally more efficient than a point of use internal combustion engine. And an investment in internal combustion today will never get better, whereas grid sourced power will likely get cleaner every year. Clearly, major advances in energy storage is needed to to take major steps forward, but a battery powered commuter loco is not far fetched.
 
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In Chicago (per old ComEd figures) 55% +/- comes from natural gas and nuclear sources rather than coal (though coal is 40 some % too).

That said, I think this is a silly plan - Metra already has experience with electric traction, so it should be a no brainer. Obviously it's a long-term and big ticket item which requires coordination and cooperation from the owners of the track (Of course, MED is fully Metra owned and hosts only electric trains under the wire).
 

MisterUptempo

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In Chicago (per old ComEd figures) 55% +/- comes from natural gas and nuclear sources rather than coal (though coal is 40 some % too).

That said, I think this is a silly plan - Metra already has experience with electric traction, so it should be a no brainer. Obviously it's a long-term and big ticket item which requires coordination and cooperation from the owners of the track (Of course, MED is fully Metra owned and hosts only electric trains under the wire).
Another thing to consider - Metra owns fewer than half the rail lines on which they run.

Can you imagine CN allowing anytime soon, if ever, Metra to string up catenary over the Heritage Corridor? Would UP be any more amenable to the idea ATM?

Most plans for RER-type service usually involve the MED, RID, MDW, and MDN, all lines Metra owns. So, perhaps a carbon-cutting future Metra may see electrification on their owned lines and battery locos on all the others, until such time that each Class I relents or they sell the lines to Metra outright.

ETA - Getting just a little further into the weeds, if Metra ever decided to revive the idea of the Southeast Service, I can see that line getting electrified on Day One.

The original plans called for the inbound SE Service to turn onto the Rock Island at Emerald Ave., via Chicago Rail Link tracks, continuing to La Salle Street Station. But if Metra was considering using the remainder of UP's right-of-way to continue south of Emerald Ave., CTAs Red Line Extension likely killed that, as the UP ROW will be used for the RLE between 95th and 119th.

But just south of 119th, the UP flies over the MED. The SE Service tracks could begin there, as a branch of the MED, continuing to Crete (and potentially Peotone Airport in the more distant future). If RER service on the MED were to take root, it should address any capacity issues running SE Service trains into Millennium Station might cause.
 
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As they are placing an initial order for only 3 battery locos, it may be a matter of them trying them out, kind of knowing it might fall short of expectations, leaving electrification as the next logical step.
Oh, well, this is a completely different story. This seems consistent with advocates of electrification encountering bean counters in management who freak out about the cost of stringing up catenary across the system. Or it may be a political type who thinks, "well, Teslas work pretty well, and they're even making battery-powered 18-wheelers, so why not locomotives?" So they'll buy 3 battery locomotives, play with them for a while, show that the current technology doesn't work, and then finally convince everyone that they'll need to bite the financial bullet and put up the overhead wires.
 
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This whole "convert . . . diesel locomotives to zero-emission battery power." leaves me wanting to scream, "HOW DO YOU GET THE ELECTRICITY???" Do these people think electricity just magically appears? The emissions may not be at the point of use, but there will be some emissions somewhere to produce the electricity, and even if you think you can get enough from wind and solar, you still have to manufacture the components needed to produce it. By the way, for both wind and solar, you must have significant battery capacity for backup, as these are hardly reliably consistent power sources.
About 20 years ago, I took some data from APTA and a national average of electrical sources for the grid and calculated comparisons of greenhouse gas emissions (per passenger mile) for various transit propulsion systems. Electric trains definitely did best, with third-rail urban heavy rail (i.e. Metros) performing best, probably because of their high load factor. As I recall electric commuter rail outperformed diesel commuter rail. I think that even though some electric generation results in fossil fuel emissions, the greater efficiency of electric motors compared to internal combustion engines means that electric traction results in fewer emissions overall. I never did anything with the stuff because it really wasn't part of my job, so there was no point in my making a big deal about it, but I do know that the EPA folks who work on greenhouse gas reductions are quite aware of the fossil fuel part of the electric grid and account for the fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions when they calculate the benefits of various reduction strategies. At the least, they talk about "zero tailpipe emissions," not "zero emissions."

Lest we forget, there's also the issue of what we call in EPA-speak "criteria pollutants," which means the nasty stuff that's been regulated since the Clean Air Act was originally passed -- NOx, Sulfur Oxides, particulates, volatile organics, and "air toxics." For that stuff, in general, converting everything to electric traction would be beneficial, because then you'd only have to ride herd on the emissions coming from a relatively small number of power plants, not hundred of thousands to millions of individual vehicles, each with their on combustion engine.
 

MisterUptempo

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Oh, well, this is a completely different story. This seems consistent with advocates of electrification encountering bean counters in management who freak out about the cost of stringing up catenary across the system. Or it may be a political type who thinks, "well, Teslas work pretty well, and they're even making battery-powered 18-wheelers, so why not locomotives?" So they'll buy 3 battery locomotives, play with them for a while, show that the current technology doesn't work, and then finally convince everyone that they'll need to bite the financial bullet and put up the overhead wires.
That was my first thought. Metra has a well-earned reputation for being a hidebound organization, and Derwinski could just be going through the motions on this one. This acquisition may just be for 3 battery powered stalking horses.

It's unfortunate we'll have to wait three and a half years before Job One is delivered, and another few years of testing to determine the locos' viability. In the meantime, valuable planning time will have been lost.
 
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west point

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The big question is------- Will the latest version of high use charge batteries hold up for long periods of time? A high use acceleration / coasting discharge / regneration /low use pause / high use acceleration - rinse over and over. Hopefully the batteries will not overheat with these quick time changes.

Do not forget the veery high cost of replacement batteries. Should not be as much per Kw hour as the overpriced Tesla replacements.
 
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Price per kwh of storage has dropped markedly over the past few years, and this type of application lends itself to much more standard "packaging" than an automotive use. Some form of thermal control is likely both for heat and cold.
 

joelkfla

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In addition to what others have said re: greater efficiency of electric, consider that even if some or even the majority of electricity on the grid is currently being generated from fossil fuels, some percentage may be coming from wind, hydro, or solar, and that percentage will increase over time.
 

cirdan

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That was my first thought. Metra has a well-earned reputation for being a hidebound organization, and Derwinski could just be going through the motions on this one. This acquisition may just be for 3 battery powered stalking horses.

It's unfortunate we'll have to wait three and a half years before Job One is delivered, and another few years of testing to determine the locos' viability. In the meantime, valuable planning time will have been lost.
But Metra already has electrified lines and electric trains so there isn't really any need to demonstrate any case. It's just a case of convincing the powers that be that they need more of this.
 

cirdan

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Price per kwh of storage has dropped markedly over the past few years, and this type of application lends itself to much more standard "packaging" than an automotive use. Some form of thermal control is likely both for heat and cold.

There is also the question of how much storage you need.

There is a big difference between expecting a battery charge to last the train through the day, and having opportunity charging at every second station or so, with the train automatically connecting to a supply and drawing a fast charge for ay 60 seconds that will top up the batteries and keep the train running for the next two stops. This approach massively reduces the amount of required storage.

Many modern trolleybus systems use batteries to be able to eliminate shorter sections of catenary and thus you evolve towards a system that is a hybrid between full electrification and full battery.

To apply this thinking to commuter railroads means you can eliminate things like electrification of complex junctions which are often disproportionately more expensive to electrify that straight lines due to the need for custom-designed and manufactured parts, and also eliminate electrification of places with reduced clearance such as bridges, tunnels etc, and also sections of line owned by freight railroads who might have grounds to object to catenary.
 
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