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Big batteries to power our trains

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Big batteries to power our trains
Posted by YoHo1975 on Friday, November 12, 2021 2:08 PM

This article has been making the rounds in my tech circles and more general interest spaces.

https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/11/can-we-run-our-trains-using-big-batteries/

The comments sections are as you might expect folks that know, folks that don't and folks with good intentions.

I think it's an interesting technology experiment for a university, but I found it quite interesting that the article itself and much of the commentary on it miss a few key things.

First and formost, the equivalency that they've chosen seems ilconceived. I'm not a Railroader, but I know enough to know that one of the things that caused diesel to dominate over steam was that it could actually run further than a steam engine could. Creating a battery system that has the ability to haul a train about the same distance as a typical steam engine doesn't have relevance to the modern railroad. That distance also isn't defined as on level ground or over mountains. That makes a big difference.

In addition, the notion of dragging multiple boxcars worth of battery behind the engines seems extremely undesirable if not unnecessary. Though, for purposes of an experiment it's fine. 

The other aspect that is disappointing is it doesn't offer any context vs the current battery electric engines that are on offer. This is a newsworthy item as far as it goes, but EMD and Wabtec both of engines on offer already. The Wabtex FLX in particular would be worth comparing to this yet it doesn't.

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, November 12, 2021 6:20 PM
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Posted by creepycrank on Saturday, November 13, 2021 4:44 AM

Wasn't the NS'S 999 a battery locomotive, sponsered by an University, recharged from Norfollk Southern's   coal fired steam plant at the Juniata shop ? So this might be the sneaky reintroduction of the steam locomotive.

Revision 1: Adds this new piece Revision 2: Improves it Revision 3: Makes it just right Revision 4: Removes it.
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Posted by caldreamer on Saturday, November 13, 2021 8:13 AM

CN just purchased Wabtecs Flexdrive battery locomotive and is testing it on long haul trains.  The technology for long haul battery operated trains is here.

 

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Posted by Shadow the Cats owner on Saturday, November 13, 2021 11:06 AM

Until that battery is dead and no way to recharge it or it's the middle of winter.  My neighbor bought a Tesla for herself.  The first cold snap she replaced it with a regular gasoline powered car.  Why her range went from 300 miles a charge to less than 100.  They don't have any reserve capacity to run heat for the occupants in the winter.  

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Posted by zugmann on Saturday, November 13, 2021 11:34 AM

caldreamer
The technology for long haul battery operated trains is here.

But is the operating plan?  

 

Many of our engines go from one crew right to another.  Sometimes getting a fuel truck to them is a challenge. 

   The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by kgbw49 on Saturday, November 13, 2021 12:31 PM

STC Owner, but we're not supposed to talk about that.

I live in the Twin Cities of Minnesota - tons of Teslas running around in the warm months.

They pretty much disappear off the roads when the weather starts turning cold. For the most part (with a few exceptions of course) they are pretty much not to be seen approximately November through March.

Don't get me wrong - I don't have anything at all against electric vehicles (even have retirement funds invested in them) as long as they are paying for their own fuel costs (charging), but reality is there are about 280 million vehicles in this country and we can barely keep the lights on as it is, and barely keep houses heated where electric heat is used, and there is a lot of cold weather in a lot of the country for a lot of the year.

But it is heresy, unfortunately, to be 100% okay with EVs, but still recognize that until there is some other innovation that can work more reliably through the whole year at an economical "fuel" cost per mile, and in a vehicle that uses technology that is affordable for the vast majority of people, there is still going to be a need for some sort of gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles for some time. I agree with Bjorn Lomborg - we need to innovate our way through this. EVs are part of the solution, for sure. Part of the solution. But it will take other parts of the solution that have not been invented yet, and some parts of the solution that have been invented but pretty much not allowed in the US (i.e. 4th generation nuclear baseload plants and more hydro).

Now I am going to duck for cover from the inevitable incoming artillery shells.

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Posted by Shadow the Cats owner on Saturday, November 13, 2021 1:17 PM

I can tell you this much about winter roads in WY.  Just what will happen to all those EV's when the roads get closed and people can not charge them up when they need to.  Should be an interesting investigation say if a school bus that is EV ran out of power in the middle of the night on a cold night and Lord help us all if say 30-40 kids of a school froze to death.  Do not laugh it can and will happen if they do not allow internal combustion engines to be sold in the future.  Okay this is from my husbands time as a driver.  He was going across ND one night in Blizzard conditions the Low for the night hit -60 with a windchill of below -100.  Even straight #1 diesel in his tanks with a fuel heater was starting to jell in his tanks.  Just how long do you think a battery pack in an EV is going to last in those temps.  

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Posted by caldreamer on Saturday, November 13, 2021 1:51 PM

This is supposed to be a TRAINS FORUM not a cars forum.  The Wabetec Flexdrive locomotive recharges it self by using regenerative braking.  That is an old and proven technologty, so running out of power does not happen.

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Posted by kgbw49 on Saturday, November 13, 2021 2:53 PM

It won't be too long before Teslas are delivered on trains pulled by Wabtec Flexdrive locomotives.

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Posted by zugmann on Saturday, November 13, 2021 3:35 PM

Shadow the Cats owner
.  Just how long do you think a battery pack in an EV is going to last in those temps.  

Sure there are a few that want 100% EV, but most people probably realize that   won't happen fora. little bit longer yet.  Different cars for different needs.  

Esp. considering many people have more than one car.  If I had a convenient place to recharge an EV, I'd probably look into one with my short commute.  But I wouldn't go for one as my only car at the present time.  10 years from now?  Who knows. 

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Posted by zugmann on Saturday, November 13, 2021 3:37 PM

caldreamer
This is supposed to be a TRAINS FORUM not a cars forum.  The Wabetec Flexdrive locomotive recharges it self by using regenerative braking.  That is an old and proven technologty, so running out of power does not happen.

  Maybe we can get some electric F150s for utiltiy trucks?

   The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by Backshop on Saturday, November 13, 2021 4:21 PM

caldreamer

This is supposed to be a TRAINS FORUM not a cars forum.  The Wabetec Flexdrive locomotive recharges it self by using regenerative braking.  That is an old and proven technologty, so running out of power does not happen.

 

What if there aren't any grades or the entire run is uphill?

Really, it sounds like you're saying that you charge it once and then it's a perpetual motion machine...

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Saturday, November 13, 2021 6:14 PM

Battery locomotives will make the most sense where there are many relatively short hills, where there are many opportunities to use regenerative braking. They would also make sense in helper districts, though I don't know how many helper districts are left.

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Posted by caldreamer on Saturday, November 13, 2021 6:33 PM

Backshop:

  Since one Flexdrive is run between two diesel locomotives it can run 40 minutes at full power, use regenerative power from dynamic braking or get power from the diesel locomotives like a mate road slug and keep the batteries charged.

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Posted by York1 on Saturday, November 13, 2021 6:43 PM

Since this setup claims to save 30% on fuel costs, what is the payout benefit?  Instead of two expensive locomotives, there are now three expensive locomotives.  How many years will it take the 30% fuel savings to pay for the third locomotive?

York1 John       

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Saturday, November 13, 2021 9:34 PM

How much battery power will be needed in winter to keep the batteries warm?  Will the diesels need to idle in run 1 or 2 or 3 power to keep the batteries warm?  My Li ION battery packs say keep temps between 41 and 104 degrees ( F ).  (5c - 40c )  My smart charger will not charge them if the temps are outside that band.  They do heat up above 104 occsionally when used continously so have to let them cool before charging. ( fire risk ) 

So both heat and cooling might be needed in a battery car ?

Operation has many questions.  Appears battery car would be a rebuilt old loco frame?  Now suppose battery is depleted at top of hill but has just a short down hill section to recharge before going up next hill?  DB braking from the battery car and loco might work?  To improve charging would diesel loco generate power as well to charge battery car?  That would certainly require very heave power cables from loco to battery car.  Just cannot imagine any battery able to charge 3 times faster that discharging.l

 

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Sunday, November 14, 2021 12:07 AM

Reasonable questions.

Any large Li-ion battery pack will hav some sort of thermal management system, EV batteries will typicaly be liquid cooled (though batteries on ca 2000 Toyota Rav 4 EV's were air cooled). I would think that keeping a large battery pack warm would take about the same amount of energy used for keeping a diesel engine block warm. That said, a battery loco that's part of a consist that includes diesel locomotives could be kept warm and charged by having the diesel engines charging the batteries while they are running to keep warm.

Cooling would be a tougher nut to crack, especially during summers in the western deserts.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Sunday, November 14, 2021 10:33 AM

Railway Age had an article on the Flexdrive locomotives. It can run 40 minutes on it's own.  It's not really designed to completely replace diesel-electrics on a one for one basis.  Rather it's to help reduce the use of diesel fuel.  Think of it as a road slug on steroids.  One that can operate at higher speeds.

Jeff 

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Posted by Paul Milenkovic on Sunday, November 14, 2021 10:41 AM

jeffhergert

Railway Age had an article on the Flexdrive locomotives. It can run 40 minutes on it's own.  It's not really designed to completely replace diesel-electrics on a one for one basis.  Rather it's to help reduce the use of diesel fuel.  Think of it as a road slug on steroids.  One that can operate at higher speeds.

Jeff 

 

 

One advantage railroads have over highways is that one can string overhead wire, at least over heavily travelled sections of track.  This is much simpler than the inductive power transmission from a roadway proposed for trucks.

Just as the inductive power transmission idea coming out Utah State is meant as a range-extender for battery-electric trucks, a battery locomotive may allow electric operation with fewer tracks covered by overhead wire.  Perhaps only one mainline track needs the overhead wire and trains could enter siding, yards, branchlines on battery power?

If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?

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Posted by kgbw49 on Sunday, November 14, 2021 12:13 PM

In a past life, I was on the board of a large city-owned utility, and then worked as a CFO for a public power company in a midwest state. I don't think the public has an idea of the massive, massive amounts of electricty it will take to maintain mobility and freedom of movement for people if all we have is electricty to power movement.

I am hoping that railroads may be able to find an alternative to electricity such as the hydrogen option that would be non-carbon, as they would have the ability to haul tenders-full of fuel. If everything is electric in the future, the cost of the electric "fuel" is going to be enormously expensive because the demand will be enormous and there will definitely be a scarcity of electric supply. That may give them an advantage over electric trucks, even autonomous ones, because the cost of electricity in that world is going to be very, very high.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't have electric trucks or vehicles, but I think figuring out how to be "non-electric" will give railroads a cost advantage.

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Posted by York1 on Sunday, November 14, 2021 2:24 PM

Paul Milenkovic
One advantage railroads have over highways is that one can string overhead wire, at least over heavily travelled sections of track. 

 

That would probably be the ideal situation, but I really believe it would be limited by where it is.

In the middle and west part of North America, the vast distances raise the issue of where will the power come from.  After the billions and billions of dollars to string the wires, there will be the need for power generation to electrify those lines.

There already is a backlash against taking valuable land for windmills and solar farms, and the increase in demand from cars and trucks will just force higher costs for railroads to use the electricity.

York1 John       

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Posted by mvlandsw on Sunday, November 14, 2021 4:45 PM

Their times cited for crew changes and refueling are exaggerated. A crew change doesn't need to take any more than ten minutes. We used to do it without even completely stopping sometimes.

Refueling shouldn't take more than 1/2 hour if properly organized. Even less if done at a fueling station with multiple hose connections.

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Sunday, November 14, 2021 6:41 PM

Haxn't there been posts about the problems of refueling DPUs since their loocation is not fixed for a fuel pad ?.  If the refueling location alllows front to pull DPUs to pad then that is not as much of a prolem.

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Posted by Shadow the Cats owner on Sunday, November 14, 2021 7:35 PM

Well if Biden's EPA gets their wish a major pipeline going across Michigan for the last 50 years is going to be shutdown this winter.  Hello to double the costs for fuel on things like heating oil gasoline diesel jet fuel let alone the inflation that will cause.  They are pushing to close the Spire 5 pipeline across Michigan.  Heck right now my drivers are having problems finding diesel fuel in certain areas.  

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Posted by MidlandMike on Sunday, November 14, 2021 10:29 PM

Shadow the Cats owner
Well if Biden's EPA gets their wish a major pipeline going across Michigan for the last 50 years is going to be shutdown this winter. 

Michigan's governor wants Line 5 shut down, but I have not heard the federal EPA has weighed in.  Could you supply a reference.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, November 14, 2021 10:41 PM

MidlandMike

 

 
Shadow the Cats owner
Well if Biden's EPA gets their wish a major pipeline going across Michigan for the last 50 years is going to be shutdown this winter. 

 

Michigan's governor wants Line 5 shut down, but I have not heard the federal EPA has weighed in.  Could you supply a reference.

 

Don't hold your breath on a reputable source.

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Posted by Paul Milenkovic on Monday, November 15, 2021 7:57 AM

charlie hebdo

 

 
MidlandMike

 

 
Shadow the Cats owner
Well if Biden's EPA gets their wish a major pipeline going across Michigan for the last 50 years is going to be shutdown this winter. 

 

Michigan's governor wants Line 5 shut down, but I have not heard the federal EPA has weighed in.  Could you supply a reference.

 

 

 

Don't hold your breath on a reputable source.

 

You do have an electric car and a home solar panel?

If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?

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Posted by caldreamer on Monday, November 15, 2021 10:28 AM

Paul:

  That is exactly what CN is doing.  They have a large solar array plant on their Alberta, Canada location.  They said that they can use it to recharge the Flexdrive locomotive.  Free electicity!!!

 

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Posted by wjstix on Monday, November 15, 2021 1:31 PM

YoHo1975
I'm not a Railroader, but I know enough to know that one of the things that caused diesel to dominate over steam was that it could actually run further than a steam engine could. Creating a battery system that has the ability to haul a train about the same distance as a typical steam engine doesn't have relevance to the modern railroad.

However not all engines are used in long-distance freight service. Many are used in yard switching or local switching, moving cars from a yard a few miles to an industry. New York Central was using battery powered engines a century (or more) ago, so I'd think there could be uses for hi-tech versions of them now?

Stix

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