Electric Loco

78 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    December 2006
  • 1,580 posts
Posted by YoHo1975 on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 1:43 PM

Why would there be an assumption that NA Railroads would want to raise train speed and thus need bigger motors? It seems to me that the increase in train velocity, not speed is what's desired for freight operations. I would not at all assume the US to move to European style railroading just because Catenary goes up. 10,000' siding cloggers will still be the norm. And the US freight system is far more efficient at what it does.



Also, there is an important different between what is desired and what is physically and politically possible.

I think most people here who think going electric would be better agree that going full electric should be the desire, but the reality is that that is NOT going to happen. So we discuss the possible.

  • Member since
    February 2021
  • From: Germany
  • 142 posts
Posted by Sara T on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 2:43 PM


If you believe the diesel will stay forever then let me cut this into 'stay as long as the railroads can go on like this' because there are changes coming up in the next future that will be beyond believe of most people now, and society and commerce will change, the little upset of commerce by a stuck container ship is just a little bit of a first taste. Mind that with increasing powers of storms and increasing numbers of freak waves such on-deck piling of containers might have to come to an end because nobody wants to pay if losses become ever more frequent. 

All this, as humanity has lived up to now, and has developed and dreamed of conquering 'new earths' in space will come to an end in horrors and agony unspoken and unthought of until now. This will be the ultimate test of humanity, not a one-off travel to Mars, as nice as it is. Where are these 'new earths'? Thousands of light-years away, and at a closer look none has stayed 'earthlike' as the first euphoric words have always been. And even if so, what do you think who could go on the generations flight expedition to go there? You? Me? any of us? Think again!


  • Member since
    June 2002
  • 17,582 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 8:25 AM


1  All modern freight AC electrics require ballasting for sufficient traction effort, and the frame of one existing 3000Hp diesel, with the prime-mover and fuel-tanks and pollution-control equipment, etc. removed, can easily accommodate the transformer, rectification, multi-frequency and multi-phase inversion equipment for the 12 or 18 motors to total more than 9000Hp in six trucks-bogies under the frames from three 3000Hp. diesels.  Such a conversion will cost a lot less than one modern diesel-electric-electric that delivers 9000Hp in both modes of operation.  (Today’s dual-modes generally deliver full power only one of the two modes.)  And when electrification of the main lines is completed, the diesel portion of most of the dual-modes would be a waste of money.  Whereas little will be lost for the conversion of most of diesels to straight electrics with the recycling of existing diesel frames and cabs that the three-dual-mode design entails.


2.  With the electrification complete, 9000Hp straight electrics will certainly have a place.   A few 3000Hp diesels will remain diesel to handle sites where wire and third-rail are prohibited or perhaps be converted for battery operation.  The fleet of 3000Hp electrics will handle local freight and passenger trains, often MUed as 6000  hp motive-power when required.


3.  Possibly the central unit of the three-unit dual-mode would eventually receive new motors with power upgraded to take full advantage of the control and conversion electrical and electronic equipment already installed.


  • Member since
    December 2006
  • 1,580 posts
Posted by YoHo1975 on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 2:12 PM

Sara T


If you believe the diesel will stay forever 



I am not saying this AT ALL and I'm a bit unsure how you understood that from my comments. The European model for train movements came from their Steam infrastructure, not electrical. It has nothing to do with Diesel vs electric. It's about how the system is used. the US runs a different kind of train than Europe. That was true on the all Electric Pennsy Mainline just as it's true on the ATSF transcon.

  • Member since
    December 2017
  • From: I've been everywhere, man
  • 3,358 posts
Posted by SD70Dude on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 2:40 PM

Large North American railroads will remain powered by internal-combustion locomotives and will continue running trains as long and heavy as possible until something forces them to change. 

Could electrification work over here?  Of course it could, the technology already exists, just look at what Russia, China and India have done, which includes running double stacked containers under catenary. 

The hurdle in the privately-owned North American railroad world is money, and our business culture that values immediate returns to shareholders over making large infrastructure investments. 

Speed does not matter over here, many freight trains average 15 mph or less over their run, and are commonly staged (parked) at enroute locations while they wait for yard capacity to open up farther down the line. 

We run intermodal trains at over 10,000 tons and sometimes over 15,000 feet.  Manifests and unit trains operate at up to 12,000 feet and 20,000 to 35,000 tons, depending on the train and power.  All are powered so that they will climb their route's ruling grade at 15 to 20 mph, and if a lighter, faster train gets stuck behind a heavy, slow train then it just has to wait, as most of our main routes are still mostly single track.  And they are still handicapped by tight curves, bridges and tunnels that date from when they were built over 100 years ago.

We haul very little freight that could truly be considered priority or time-sensitive, and no one cares about railroads.  The general public views trains as a nuisances that only exist to block crossings and belch fumes in cities. 

Outside of a few corridors in highly populated areas, we do not have any passenger trains worth mentioning. 

At this time the money that would be needed to electrify would be far better spent on yard capacity expansions, double track, and eliminating speed restrictions.  But the Class I's can't even do those things properly. 

The diesel will remain until all of the above changes. 

It is difficult to explain just how different our railroads are from European systems.  I hope this post provides a decent start. 

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

  • Member since
    June 2002
  • 17,582 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, April 1, 2021 10:21 PM

I agree with the above, and the reason for my 3-unit input is to try to bring the costs dowm as practically as possible for North American conditions specifically.  Assuming no-air-polution and no-climate-warming generation of electricity, which may be achievable, there will be government presssure and perhaps funding for electrification. Without that, I do not see it in the future.

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 16,282 posts
Posted by Overmod on Friday, April 2, 2021 6:19 AM

Assuming no-air-polution and no-climate-warming generation of electricity, which may be achievable, there will be government presssure and perhaps funding for electrification.

Keep in mind that the carbon and other environmental costs associated with fabricating, installing, and maintaining the electric infrastructure have to be factored into a 'green' analysis.  Included in a 'well-to-wheel' sort of analysis these can be substantial.

Yes, they all "could" be mitigated with wise choices and enough planning ahead.  It would be possible for example to run most of the construction equipment on properly-treated B100 from fully renewable sources.  But that takes careful advance planning and equally careful attention to financial concerns...

  • Member since
    December 2006
  • 1,580 posts
Posted by YoHo1975 on Sunday, April 4, 2021 1:14 AM
At this point though, if we're going to do this, we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. Which is the thought I'd apply to the Diesel/Electric bimodal concept. And I'd also like to clarify that the reason we don't have electrics everywhere is in large part a private enterprise financial decision, but train velocity, length and trailing tonnage have nothing to do with Diesel vs. electric. Or rather, the don't need to. Electric locomotives can be built to handle NA freight railroading. Most railroading outside the US, Passenger dominates and Freight modalities key off of that. It's the exact opposite in the states. It's generally thought, or rather, I've oft heard stated that the US FREIGHT railroad system is envious. We move a lot more goods over a lot more area than anyone else. I'm not sure even with the feds paying for it that we would want to move to a European model for Freight. Passenger sure, but not freight.
  • Member since
    June 2002
  • 17,582 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, April 4, 2021 7:07 AM

Again, I agree with the previous posts.  I do wonder how the USSR and perhaps China compair with the USA or USA & Mexico & Canada in total volume of rail freight.

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 20,523 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Sunday, April 4, 2021 7:33 AM

Again, I agree with the previous posts.  I do wonder how the USSR and perhaps China compair with the USA or USA & Mexico & Canada in total volume of rail freight.

Internet 'observations' would indicate the Russia & China don't compare favorably against North America.  But is the internet accurate?

  • Member since
    March 2021
  • 59 posts
Posted by Former Car Maintainer on Sunday, April 11, 2021 12:31 AM


A bit of DC motor theory: The voltage developed on the motor armature is proportional to the product of the applied magnetic field and the rotational speed of the armature. If the voltage applied to the armature is higher than the voltage generated by the armature, current will flow into the armature and the motor will generate torque (i.e. act as a motor). If the voltages are equal than no current flows and no mechanical power is generated. If the voltage on the armature is higher than the applied voltage, current will flow out and the motor is now acting as a generator. That it it absorbs mechanical power and turns it into electrical power.

The Milwaukee electric locomotives used DC series motors, which complicates regeneration. The locomotives had a high current low voltage generator that would be connected to the motor fields and that would then turn the motor into a generator. A similar thing is done in diesel electric locomotives where a current is applied to the traction motors to turn them into generators.

The trick for AC motors is a little bit different, where frequency is used to control whether the motor is motoring or generating. An unloaded 4 pole induction motor will run at almost 1800RPM on 60Hz, if you connect it to an engine running at 1850RPM, the motor will now act as an induction generator.


Dynamic braking and regenerative braking can both slow a train down. If the catenary, third rail or trolley wire is "receptive", the motor output while braking is diverted there. If it is not "receptive", the line switch is opened and the motor output while braking is diverted to the dynamic brake grids and dissapated as heat. I can't speak as to DMU's, I suspect they don't have the regenerative feature.

  • Member since
    January 2019
  • 951 posts
Posted by Erik_Mag on Sunday, April 11, 2021 2:05 AM

IIRC, the original BART cars had braking resistors that would start cutting in when the third rail voltage rose somewhere above the nominal 1kV used on BART's third rail. The Milwaukee had at least one braking "substation" on the Rocky Mountain section of the electrification to handle situations where the train was producing more regenerative braking power than could be handled by the M-G substations.

  • Member since
    October 2014
  • 11 posts
Posted by Cursator on Sunday, April 18, 2021 4:34 AM

There are far more 3-phase AC locomotives in Switzerland than classics these days (BLS, SBB Cargo International and the other "trans mountain companys" go almost exclusively for 3-phase AC), SBB Cargo National and some young local providers like WRS (started by a dentist!) go for older, cheap to buy classics.

Replacement in the SBB Corporation:

These locos will not be replaced 1:1 (same story with the last generation the Ae 6/6 before them). Their working enviroment gets chipped away piece by piece (Re 420, Re 430, Re 620):

  • Passender service: only a handful remain and the only ones surviving beyond 2022 will be for rush hour service (Re 420 "Lion"), partially because they are geared for 140kph and these days 160kph and above are necessary), they are incompatible with newer locos and they are pretty old (some will be 60 years old when they retire)
  • Freight - Trans mountain operation: they were completely displaced by leased Siemens Vectron units because they are cheaper to maintain and can be run from start to finish (equipped for the "DACHINL" corridor)
  • Freight - Swiss Traffic: Here these units litterally have been run to their grave (Re 420 and Re 430), a part of the Re 620 fleet is once more running through a heavy maintanance cycle and will be in operation a bit longer. There hase been inroads of Re 484 locomotives to replace Re 420/Re430.

So their days are numbered, the same goes for Germany and Austria. Some will remain because they are paid off.

PS: DACHINL: D=Germany / A=Austria / CH=Switzerland / I=Italy / NL= Netherlands. They have to be equipped for running 15kV 16.7Hz, 25kV 50Hz, 3000VDC, need to have different pantographs (width for operation and  length for power under lower voltage) and need to have all necessary signaling electronics (D/A: PCB / LZB, CH/A/I: ERTMS ETCS L2, I: BACC/SCMT, NL: ATB)

  • Member since
    October 2014
  • 11 posts
Posted by Cursator on Sunday, April 18, 2021 5:27 AM


To counter Sarahs posts:

If we take a Siemens Taurus (they are not in production anymore because they do not meet the crash worthyness standart and were to costly to produce) or their replacement the Siemens Vectron we see the following:

  • 7MW / 9000HP electric locomotive, usually 90t (metric)
  • Cabable for operation in all europe (15kV 16,7Hz, 25kV 50Hz, 3000VDC and 1500VDC), with enough space for the necessary signaling electronics for a wide range of countries (not all) or a Last Mile Diesel Engine for light shunting
  • four pantographs for different countries
  • capable of operation up to 200kph

So there is a lot of weight a freight road in the US would never need, as modern diesel electrics only lack the transformer and pantograph to be fully electric. So of this 90t the transformer will be about 10t and with all the wiring and panthograph will only be a total of 15t (for 9000HP).

As the main transformer will only be capable of one frequency (60Hz I presume with no acces to the NEC), this makes the main transfomer considerably lighter (with the higher frequency a smaller iron core is sufficient).

So now to the electroslug: for usage as a power mule in between two diesel locomotives we can remove the prime mover, alternator, cooling, brake resistors and fuel tank.

Lets dream big so we go for three AC6000CW conversions so 18000HP for the traction is necessary, we add some for the auxiliaries and we have 21000HP. this means we will need 2.3x the power from the main transformer of the vectron. So we need 2.3x the transformer and once the wiring: 2.3x10t + 5t= 28t.

A AC6000CW has a fuel tank of 5500gal (=21000l = 17.85t). I am pretty sure we could make this work.

Power from the catenary: We have a maximium power of this consist of 21000HP (16.1MW) with a nominal catenary voltage of 50kV (range 45-55kV) so worst case 45kV gives us 357.8A. That is fully ok with more or less every modern catenary.


Despite all that, I think we will see wide usage of LNG, CNG or hybrids (Hydrogen combined with batteries) before we will see the us railroads electrified.

  • Member since
    December 2007
  • From: Georgia USA SW of Atlanta
  • 10,242 posts
Posted by blue streak 1 on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 6:53 PM

Let us look at when freight RRs will  have significant electrification that would cause Amtrak to convert not if.  The when will probably be by 2160 .  That allows for the best diesels to last between 20  and 40  years,  Some of the freight fleet will have a half life of 20 years.

The eastern RRs ( notabley CSX and NS ) but that will change somewhat between now and then.  These eastern routes will go 60 Hz of course.  So to meet the need for the routes operating on parts of the NEC Amtrak or is sucessors will need to go to 60 HZ. 

All replacement equipment now that can work on both frequencies as far as I know is being replaced as such by a.  By the when time or probably sooner the conversion will happen.  The many rotary convertes and even the Siemens converter now is service will have met its maker.  As to how, where, and when only speculation now is possible. 

The "easy" locations  probably would be

1. Washington - Perry & Harrisburgh - Paoli  That allows MARC to keep its electric 60 Hz equipments and use them when the CSX line to Baltimore is electrified.  That allows SEPTA more time to get its rolling stock 60 Hz compatible from 25 Hz.

2.  Then it gets difficult.  ideally SSY ( Sunnyside ) yard would get converted once all NJ Transit equipment  becomes auto dual Frequency capable.

3.  What would help if NYP is converted out to past the west portal of present Hudson river tunnels as well as the new Gateway tunnel bores.  If possible then past all the trackage east of Newark Penn station. 

3a.  This would give the NYP - Albay line having a high probably of getting 12.5 or 25 Kv CAT. 

4.  Then the final push to get 60 Hz PHL - Newark,  An ongoing problem will be the at grade crossing of SEPTA 25 Hz with the changed Amtrak NEC 60 Hz  near North PHL station.

Easy? absolutely not.  But to get North American all on 60 Hz probably needs doing.

There  are many items that will need replacing during a conversion that cannot be processed before conversion.

a.  Hopefully all transformers will have been converted to dual frequency capable.  

b.  Any motorized equipment either replaced or have a new 60  Hz equipment  stand bying next to 25 Hz equipment.

c.  The present signal system is 91-2/3 Hz which is not a harmonic of either 25 or 60 Hz. So hopefully not too much will need replacement.   The track inductors that only pass the 91 Hz will not need replacing during conversion. Do no know if that was a  problem for MNRR conversion ?

d.  All Amtrak CAT will hopefully be constant tension by conversion

Some other thoughts. There will be locations on Freight RRs that 12.5 Kv will be needed for locations that clearances will not allow higher voltages.  If Freights use 25 Kv elsewhere then a simple center tap on the electric motor transformer when on 12.5 Kv will work.  If 50 Kv is used then I am not sure exactly how that will work on 12.5 Kv of spot locations, Amtrak, and MNRR..  Running on 12.5 Kv may require a much more robust pan or maybe multiple pans up at same time?  

  • Member since
    December 2007
  • 1,260 posts
Posted by Falcon48 on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 1:42 AM

There's a basic problem with the notion of railroads and other transportation modes changing from internal combusion to some form of electric propulsion.  Where's all of the additional electricity going to come from, and how will it be transmitted?   

I'm certainly not an electric utilty engineer, but I would guess that a change like this would roughly double the national demand for electricity (maybe there's someone on this forum who could caculate a more accurate figure).  Where's that power going to come from?   It's got to be produced in some form or fashion.  It's not going to come from coal - that's a fossil fuel regarded by environmentalists as the fuel from hell.  It's not going to come from natural gas.  That's also a fossil fuel which produces CO2 when burned  - another fuel from hell.  It also usually requires (horror of horrors) "fracking" to extract.  Nuclear ??  No chance (at least not with current technology) given its demonstrated  potential for infrequent but truly catastrophic accidents on a biblical scale (think Chernobyl and Fukushima).  Solar?  How much of the United States would have to be covered by solar panels to double electric power production (not to mention to replace existing fossil fuel generation)?  Wind ?? It hardly needs to be said that wind is erratic and unreliable as a base power source.  Hydroelectric ??  Does anyone seriously believe it would be politically possible in this day and age to construct the large hydroelectric dams needed to produce this kind of power?    

And, even if all this additional power could be produced, how does it get to the end users?  Does the existing transmission line infrastructure have the capacity to handle the huge increase in demand for electricity that would result from electrifying tranportation?  If not, how many more transmission lines would have to be built to do this, and would that even be politically possible in today's NIMBY environment? 

I'm reminded of a large photographic mural I once saw in a museum many years ago.  It was a head-on view of an early 20th century electric streetcar coming down the street with a large factory in the background belching huge black clouds of smoke, undoubtedly from the burning of coal.  One casually looking at this picture would say it is a great example of "clean" electricity vs "dirty" fossil fuel.  But there's one problem with that view.  That factory belching the huge black clouds of smoke was the power plant for the electric streetcar system.  The moral is that electric transportation is only as "clean" as the facilities that generate and transmit the electricity it uses.


  • Member since
    March 2021
  • 59 posts
Posted by Former Car Maintainer on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 2:09 AM

You mean like the new green deal and bullet trains to nowhere?

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 16,282 posts
Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 7:16 AM

Where's all of the additional electricity going to come from, and how will it be transmitted?

What, don't you believe in fairies? Laugh

The situation is greatly magnified when you add the prospective demand from large numbers of BEVs -- the real fun coming if ttrraaffiicc's autonomous-electric-truck future starts to come true.  On the bright side, much of the capital investment in transmission infrastructure, including the implicit concerns with stranded costs, necessary for at least dual-mode-lite can be borne by the developing road industry...

I think the renewable-generation scam will come to a head within the next decade or so -- probably accelerated by somewhat shortsighted propaganda from the hydrogen-carrier people, who have an inherently highly-unprofitable model that will have to be made to seem more popular.

I do think that there are ways to expand power coverage for railroads cost-effectively, but most of them involve 'Keynesian government-level' investment even if rolled out over decades.  That's far less likely than subsidized buildout for 'free' road services.  I have been looking at ways this might be facilitated for railroads since the 1970s (renember the cautionary tales of PSE&G's cat bridges across the Meadowlands!) and yes, I think there are answers.

Electrification on this scale is essentially the same kind of carrier-fuel approach that hydrogen is.  In both cases 'cleaning up' the generation and distribution is possible; the history of power plant 'improvements' since 1970 is impressive; some of the theoretical possibilities coming out of 'clean coal' R&D even more so.  The point to remember, as you noted, is that carrier energy isn't free, and it does shift much of the primary pollution "conveniently elsewhere" from the points or even air-quality-management districts of consumption.

The theoretical performance advantages of electrification often involve disproportionate capital investment, and this is factored into the American electrification studies I have seen.  At least two French engineers have said to me that the TGV network would be impractical to run if France had not heavily invested in nuclear power -- implicitly sharing both cost and risk with the greater markets for 'grid power'.  We won't see anything comparable here in my lifetime.

  • Member since
    June 2002
  • 17,582 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Monday, April 26, 2021 7:12 AM

In late sommer 1947, while photographing Webster Avenue streetcars, as poted in a Classic Trains Forum "thied Avenue Second-Hand...,"  Mmy ayttention was diverted by a passing Boston r Springfield EP-4-powered train.  The power's paint scheme was a usual pre-McGinneis ne for DL-1209 and later PA diesels, but ver rare on EP-4s and EF-3s, ususlly all-green fronts if my mwemorty is correct.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy