That's a big battery!

All Aboard

President Joe Biden really loves trains. Like, really loves trains. So it’s no surprise he was smiling broadly while announcing Union Pacific’s new purchase of 20 battery-powered locomotives in a video published in late January. According to a UP press release issued last month, the purchase is the largest-ever investment in battery electric technology by a major railroad. Biden said the money will end up supporting other companies, too.

“Guess who’s supplying those batteries?” Biden said during the appearance. “General Motors! Folks, it matters a lot.”

According to UP, the first locomotives arrive in 2023 and all should be delivered by 2024. They’ll immediately be put to work in rail yards in California and Nebraska and tested in cold and warm weather. UP says the hope is the rail yard lessons will allow the locomotives to eventually be used for long-haul travel.

“We’re committed to actions that reduce Union Pacific’s environmental footprint,” Lance Fritz, Chairman, President and CEO of Union Pacific said in a separate release. “These investments will contribute… industry-wide benefits.”

Full Speed Ahead

Battery powered trains aren’t exactly new, and a recent Wired report found that electric locomotives are already rolling on California tracks. The Pacific Harbor Line began operating battery electric locomotives in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach late last year, and Wabtec tested its FLXdrive locomotives on 18 trips between Barstow and Stockton, California.

Wabtec CTO Eric Gebhardt told Wired the trip saved about 11 percent on fuel and emissions, and that the next-generation battery locomotive could cut emissions by up to 30 percent. Another strong selling point is regenerative braking, which allows the trains to recapture energy when they slow down that’s lost forever by locomotives powered by fossil fuels.

It’s great that UP is buying battery-powered locomotives to begin testing, not to mention that the US has a president interested in supporting advanced and ecofriendly transport. If Biden were to work more clean energy and rail transport of this kind into the country’s infrastructure plan, it could pay dividends quickly.

More on train-sport: Former SpaceX Engineers Build Electric Train Car That Doesn’t Need a Locomotive


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