Rail Power Sustainability IntelliConference

The transportation fuels marketplace is about to undergo rapid conversion. The railroad industry should respond proactively. As truck and automobile fleets shift to battery and/or fuel cell electric power, the petroleum diesel supply chain will contract. Identifying and implementing new power supply sources requires large-scale collaboration.

Core Question:

How can the North American freight rail system best transition to a sustainable world that no longer uses petroleum diesel fuel?

General Questions

  1. What does ‘sustainable’ mean in the context of rail motive power?
  2. What dynamics have to be considered when using multiple motive technologies across the system?
  3. What funding resources are currently available for each motive power choice?
  4. What funding resources might be made available for each motive power choice?
  5. What public incentives are currently available for uptake of new power choices?
  6. What public incentives might be made available for uptake of new power choices?
  7. When will reductions in the availability of diesel fuel necessitate changes to the rail industry’s supply choices?
  8. How might the United States’ National Labs support the uptake of new motive power choices?


  1. What are the potential biodiesel feedstocks and production methods that might be useful as a motive power choice?
  2. What has been the performance experience of previous use of biodiesel for rail motive power?
  3. What are the production challenges of supplying biodiesel fuel to the rail industry?
  4. What are the logistical challenges of supplying biodiesel fuel to the rail industry?
  5. What performance evidence do railroad mechanical personnel need to specify biodiesel at higher percentage blending with petroleum diesel, especially in cold climates?
  6. What grants and subsidies are available for railroad use of biodiesel?

Internal Combustion with Compressed Natural Gas

  1. Given the costs of locomotive conversion, fuel tender acquisition, loss of revenue car space, and fueling station construction, what are the overall financial ramifications of natural gas?
  2. What federal subsidies (CMAQ, etc.) are available to pay for conversion costs?
  3. How can infrastructure costs (e.g. – condensing and fueling stations at intermodal transload facilities) be shared with other entities?
  4. How much gas leakage during transportation, storage, and fueling is acceptable?
  5. What has been the prior experience of railroads with using compressed natural gas?

Fuel Cell

  1. Are fuel cells an overly complex technology for locomotives?
  2. What is the environmental impact of hydrogen derived from natural gas?
  3. How can hydrogen infrastructure developed for other freight modes be useful to rail?
  4. Who can build new fuel cell locomotives?


  1. Where does steam locomotive power fit in modern railroading?
  2. How does a potential modern steam locomotive differ from historic models?

Electrification – General Questions

  1. What is the per gallon price of diesel that would make electrification an obvious economic choice?
  2. How can the FRA’s Transportation Technology Center, Inc. facilitate the exploration, selection, and certification of technologies and manufacturers?
  3. What can we learn from the history of rail electrification?
  4. What can we learn from rail electrification in other countries?
  5. How do the operating costs (besides fuel) compare with diesel locomotives?
  6. How much faster are electric locomotives and what difference does that make in track capacity?
  7. How much lifecycle emissions reduction is gained from the use of electric locomotives?
  8. How many fewer all-electric locos can be used compared to the same train using diesel-electric power?
  9. How much cheaper is electricity as a motive fuel?
  10. What effect will electrification have on ECP brake implementation?


  1. How can locomotives be designed to take advantage of regenerative braking, vibration harvesting, and other waste energy capture methods?
  2. What models of locomotives are candidates for conversion?
  3. What companies can perform the conversions?
  4. What battery technologies are best attuned to railroad use, both on-board and trackside?

Power Delivery

  1. How can power suitable for locomotives be drawn from very high voltage transmission lines?
  2. What are the costs and construction implications of each power delivery method, i.e., overhead wire, third rail, induction from buried cable, etc.?
  3. What is the experience with overhead catenary suffering pole and wire damage from shifted loads, damaged railcars, and derailments?
  4. How does the use of battery powered locomotives impact the need for catenary?
  5. What are the lifecycle economics of using composite catenary poles versus steel poles?
  6. What is the experience with double-stacked containers and other taller railcars clearing catenary?

Electric Grid Synergy

  1. What are the needs of the electric industry for new transmission corridors?
  2. What are the practical questions that have to be answered to evaluate co-location of new transmission lines along rail rights-of-way?
  3. How will rail electrification help to expand the viability of new remote renewable power generation?
  4. What is the value of grid-connected idle switching (and road) locomotives offering peak shaving, line conditioning, backup electric power, and grid resiliency?
  5. What potential benefits to trackside communities could be available from access to higher voltage transmission lines?
  6. What other transportation components could use improved access to electric power such as reefer units and crossing signals?


  1. What catenary installation techniques will North America require that are different from international state-of-the-art?
  2. What portion of the North American rail network should be electrified?
  3. How are target sections determined?
  4. How should electrification be staged?
  5. How will electrification coexist with residual diesel-powered segments?
  6. What companies can build the machines that build the catenary?
  7. How should we assess the Benefit-Cost Analysis difference between catenary and battery/hybrid?


  1. How much of the power delivery infrastructure would electric transmission providers fund?
  2. How can the remaining infrastructure costs be funded?
  3. How much and which electrification expenses should be borne by government?
  4. What current Federal sources might be utilized for funding this conversion?
  5. What new funding approaches can be established for new locomotives?
  6. What new funding approaches can be established for construction?

Hybrid and Pure Electric Vehicles and Maintenance Equipment

  1. How do hybrid or pure-electric drivetrains compare in TOC with ICE-only drivetrains?
  2. What battery technology is or will be sufficient for providing power during a full work shift?

References: https://www.etransenergy.com/

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