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Has anyone heard of using battery powered electric engines as an alternative to diesel electric engines?  An abstract of a scientific talk claims the following:

"In this seminar, we will discuss opportunities for battery electric trains. Nearly all trains in the US are diesel electric. Adding battery cars to current diesel electric trains can deliver zero emission rail and 200 GWh of mobile storage to enhance power system resilience.  One battery car can power a 100-car train for 450 miles. At a power cost of ~ 5 cents/kWh and near-future battery costs ($100/kWh), this addition to eliminate diesel use is cost-effective."



I don't know the engineering or economics of this well enough to know if this is even plausible,  That 200 GWh is not the size of one RR battery car.  Some simple-minded calculations based on the Tesla megapack - each megapack is ~3 MWh and weighs ~ 50k pounds.  A 50 foot RR boxcar carries ~200,000 pounds, or four megapacks = ~12 MWh.    Wonder what a power/load curve looks like for a 450 mile trip starting from a dead stop with 100 car train?

Still, this is an interesting idea - if feasible.  As soon as you get out of the NE corridor, there's not much overhead power around anymore, so short of having to install a lot of catenary (at some tremendous cost?) maybe having lots of charged up battery cars statloned along the length of the RR is a way to do it.

Last edited by richs09
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GE had built a pair of 44 electric with Lead acid batteries. Like other electrics and or Diesels for that matter, were built primarily around highly explosive plants such as flour mills. I single ember from a steam engine in the wrong spot would be a disaster. I'm not sure about munition plants, I believe they were fine with Diesel electrics.

I had just had a conversation with a gentleman who was telling me about the NS units where low bid was used and parts were cobbled together, not a truly engineered system. Which is critical.

Hopefully BNSF will have better luck. 

Battery Technology is quickly evolving, as a solar back-up, storage systems, with the ultimate goal of off-grid power.  Stationary application, may be easier, than motion, IMO.  Most efficient/Stored power, per weight, ration. LiPo batteries. Litium Polymer, used in model airplanes.  Down side, of LiPo, is a cracked battery case, exposing Lithium to air.  Leading edge tech, seems to be Tesla, There are a lot of Hybrid vehicles, (I'm driving my second Prius).  Most electronic devices would have LiPO batteries.  IMO, Mike CT. IMO.

Edit/Add:  Prius technology does regenerative electric as part of the braking system.  Electric motor is reversed, downhill grade to replenish the battery.   Also saves on brake pad/disk maintenance.

Last edited by Mike CT

Seems great for indoor use such as switching a car shop or manufacturing plant, and thing around a painting or high dust area, but the main draw backs would be the same as for cars, with the exception of weight, which is often a good thing for locomotives.  If you have to drag the weight of the batteries in a separate car you give up the advantage of tractive effort created by all that mass sitting on top of the driving wheels.  Regenerative braking is great charge extender, but you still need to idle the machine while it charges somewhere.  A buzz box type arrangement in the middle of a diesel consist that charges from the other locomotives when not having power drawn from the batteries would make and interesting hybrid that could help with acceleration and hill climbs, but would require extensive modifications to the coupled diesel(s). 

I think its going to be a while until this goes from pipe dream to Tesla status.  although since I work at a stationary power plant - bring it on!  And all the electric cars you can charge too.  Even better charge them at night so the grid demand profile even out.

I have no real insight into the engineering and economic optimization scheme for battery-powered locomotives (likely way too early for that).  Agreed that there is an important advantage of having weight in the locomotives, but maybe the lead A unit doesn't need as much weight (or power) as the following B units, which could have the batteries and electric traction motors and most of the power.  The not-very-good analogy might be the last of the UP GTEL's where the lead A unit had a small diesel-electric system onboard but all the big horsepower was in the trailing unit containing the turbine and the associated generator and traction motors.

As with all-electric vehicles, a major issue is the time it takes to recharge the batteries.  An interesting comparison is with a gasoline fired car, taking 5 minutes to fill the 15 gal tank is a power equivalent of ~10 MW (!) (think about the combination of voltage and current to get to 10 MW...).  Although ol' Elon is working on it, it still takes time to recharge a Tesla at a supercharging station -- there's also, ultimately, a chemistry limit.  So, seems to me the idea of having a buncha B units that can be exchanged for fully charged units at various way-points is one logical way to approach this.

On other advantage of a fully electrical system is the ability to use regenerative braking in place of dynamic braking - so a fraction of the braking energy is usefully used, as opposed to dynamic breaking, which just dumps heat to the local atmosphere.

@richs09 posted:


On other advantage of a fully electrical system is the ability to use regenerative braking in place of dynamic braking - so a fraction of the braking energy is usefully used, as opposed to dynamic breaking, which just dumps heat to the local atmosphere.

What if they could also capture this energy from the other engines and feed it to the electric in the middle of the head end consist? Faster recharging?

Years ago I recall seeing a tv show that showed battery-powered buses in Europe/UK.  At the charging stations, they simply swapped out battery assemblies, one that need charging for a fresh one, and the bus was on it's way in minutes.  The battery assy slid out on rails and got recharged for the next bus to use.  As long as there's commonality between rails, connections, etc it would work for any make.  But if the companies are anything like the model train guys then commonality is out the window.

B units with the main or even extra batteries in them makes sense, I'm sure the RRs could determine where they would need to be placed along the mainline.

I also saw where they're experimenting with graphene based batteries.  From the web:

Graphene batteries are an emerging technology which allows for increased electrode density, faster cycle times, as well as possessing the ability to hold the charge longer thus improving the battery's lifespan.

I confess to not knowing much about how modern RRs actually allocate their motive power resources for typical freight operations.  Does the initial lashup of 4 or 5 locomotives remain the same for the duration of a run from the West Coast to Chicago (for example) - not counting whatever 'helper' power is needed to cross the Sierra or the Cascades or Cajon Pass?  If they are the same units throughout, presumably they need to be refueled at some point?  If you look at the distribution of the amount (tonnage or number of cars?) of freight hauled vs distance, what does that look like?  Even if the average was, say, 700 miles (a straight up WAG on my part), then there is a significant fraction of freight that is moved within the range of a single charge (the abstract mentioned at the top of this post sez 450 miles).

What I think is interesting in all this is simply that advances in battery technology have moved the conversation about electric vehicles from 'they'll never replace ICE (remember the movie of about ten years or so ago called 'Who killed the electric car') to the major automobile manufacturers moving to all electric vehicle fleets within 20 or so years.  I suspect that this hasn't been lost on the RRs and their motive power suppliers.

OK, here is my take/example on battery powered vehicles:

From our house to Orlando, FL it is about 1142 miles, and takes about 17 hours of driving, i.e. 2 days with an overnight stay.

For a future electric vehicle, at about 300 miles, then requiring about 8 to 12 hours of recharge, the following should apply:

1) We can't get out of Illinois the first day, then find a charging station for 8 to 12 hours.

2) The second day would be to Chattanooga, TN, then find a charging station for 8 to 12 hours.

3) The third day would be to Valdosta, GA, then find a charging station for 8 to 12 hours.

4) The fourth day would be into Orlando, and another 8 to 12 hours of recharge.

So,,,,,,,,,if my math is correct, our "week long vacation in Orlando"  would be only about 2 days! The rest of the time is driving & recharging. Just my opinion but, being an old guy, I think I'll stick with our internal combustion powered automobiles.

@Hot Water posted:

OK, here is my take/example on battery powered vehicles:

From our house to Orlando, FL it is about 1142 miles, and takes about 17 hours of driving, i.e. 2 days with an overnight stay.

For a future electric vehicle, at about 300 miles, then requiring about 8 to 12 hours of recharge, the following should apply:

1) We can't get out of Illinois the first day, then find a charging station for 8 to 12 hours.

2) The second day would be to Chattanooga, TN, then find a charging station for 8 to 12 hours.

3) The third day would be to Valdosta, GA, then find a charging station for 8 to 12 hours.

4) The fourth day would be into Orlando, and another 8 to 12 hours of recharge.

So,,,,,,,,,if my math is correct, our "week long vacation in Orlando"  would be only about 2 days! The rest of the time is driving & recharging. Just my opinion but, being an old guy, I think I'll stick with our internal combustion powered automobiles.

Look up charge rates for DC Fast Charging Sir! Much faster and already available. My new Chevy Bolt has the option installed for DC fast charging.

I believe you get something like 80% battery charge in one hour? Works out better for traveling.

Maybe some people will "stop and smell the roses", instead of just hauling all day.

I just read that as of 2019, there's 5.6 million electric vehicles on the road.

Last edited by Engineer-Joe

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