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Railpower Hopes to Triple Production of its Hybrid Locomotives in 2006, Stem Losses

Railpower’s Green Goat hybrid switcher.

Railpower Technologies hopes to deliver 90 to 100 of its diesel-electric hybrid locomotives—Green Goat yard switchers and the new road switchers—in 2006 after struggling with production, system and financial issues in 2005.

The company—which reported a C$59.9 million loss for 2005, up from C$15 million a year ago—produced 32 locomotives last year. As of Thursday of this week, it had order for 160 locomotives on its books. The company had managed to increase production in the fourth quarter of 2005 to 14 units. Sales for 2005 reached C$20.2 million, up from C$740,000 a year earlier.

The company had issues with defective battery system components in several of its hybrid locomotives that resulted in fires in two. Furthermore, some customers discovered battery life issues with some Green Goats in service.

According to José Mathieu, President and CEO of Railpower, the company has resolved both sets of issues, and returned the affected locomotives to service.

As it is not uncommon with young companies that are in transition into commercial production we have encountered some issues, but we believe we have moved aggressively to address them.

—José Mathieu

The majority of this year’s production will go toward fulfilling orders from Canadian Pacific and a 98-locomotive order from Union Pacific. Railpower lost a potential additional 60-unit order from Union Pacific because it did not have the capacity to deliver.

In 2005, the company announced it was developing two road switcher locomotives in addition to the initial green Goat yard switcher. (Earlier post.) Those switchers are going into trials this spring, and Mathieu is anticipating good sales of the units.



Batteries cause a problem in a hybrid, news to me!

Rafael Seidl

Yard switching is an application involving the frequent and fairly rapid acceleration and deceleration of enormous masses (locomotive + rolling stock + freight). The maximum speeds are moderate, though.

From a purely technical perspective, batteries alone are perhaps a suboptimal storage medium for this application. They are inefficient (i.e. generate a lot of heat) when charged or discharged at high power, causing fires unless the design provides adequate cooling. Both rapid charge/discharge cycles and deep discharges reduce life expectancy by quite a bit for most battery types.

It would be interesting to know why power-centric alternatives such as ultracapacitor or hydraulic hybrid designs were rejected. Perhaps they were too immature or just too expensive.


Lithium batteries are being tried in hybrids. Note the experience(fires) using lithium in notebooks. Perhaps they switched from Lithium to NiMH.


Li-ion fires are due to the old cobalt oxide cathode formula, which can liberate oxygen (think thermite, but with lithium and cobalt instead of aluminum and iron).  The various phosphate and titanium spinel chemistries do away with this.

Hampden Wireless

Notice that there WERE fires with older laptops, not heard of any designs in the past two years that do that.

Trains are a poor use of hybrid tech. Most of the time a locomotive is operating at a very high efficency. Maybe in the train yard where there is alot of stoping and starting. The rest of the time trains can go for hours without stoping. When they do the energy levels would be of the charts.

Locomotive engines are the most undersized (purposly) engines in the transportation industry. Most engines cannot start a large train without resorting to trickery. The engine must back up into the train and take out all of the slack in the cars. Then it pulls forward and it is initially only pulling the first few cars. It can take a while before the last car even starts moving so in effect the engine could start less then 1/4 of the whole train moving without doing that trick.


Someone should tell GE that hybrid over-the-road locos are a bad idea; they seem not to have gotten the message.

I've been told that the sticktion in rail cars makes it impossible to start a whole train all at once; even if the locomotive had enough draft, it would pull the coupler right off the first car.  I'm not sure whether this is believable given that locos do pull trains up mountains, but it's interesting nonetheless.

This brings to mind a question:  what's the spring constant of a typical rail car?  It would make an interesting problem element in an intro physics course.


One potentially useful application for hybrid over-the-road locomotives (as opposed to the switching engines mentioned in the present article) would be on commuter or passenger trains. They (1) tend to make far more frequent stops and starts than long-haul freight trains, (2) tend to be rather short and very lightly loaded relative to freight trains, (3) would place a premium on improved acceleration/deceleration performance, and (4) be able to shut off their diesel engines while in terminals, tunnels or other exhaust-sensitive locations.

Most of the rest of the world has largely electrified the vast majority of their track, but most American commuter lines (with the exception of a bunch in New York City and San Francisco) still run on diesel. I have not had time to research how big this market might be; that is, whether it is big enough to justify the development costs of a hybrid standard size locomotive, or whether GE is hoping to sell their locomotive into less than ideal uses. I know that most major American cities, including New York (MTA, Jersey Transit), Chicago (Metra), Toronto (GO), Boston (MBTA) and Philly (SEPTA) have substantial commuter rail fleets, as do less obvious contenders such as Los Angeles (Metrolink). I'm not sure how big, or what the electric/diesel mix is.

Would regenerative braking make sense on electric locomitves; either storing the power on board or pumping it upstream through the pantograph? I have no clue what the technical limitations might be, and have not done enough research to know if, even if it is feasible, the recaptured energy would pay for the cost of the extra equipment.

An afterthought: Would hybrid locomotives pulling freight trains have a special advantage over conventional diesel-electrics in mountainous terrain? Could their ability to draw-down their batteries on up-grades allow the train to move faster, or cut the number of needed locomotives for that segment? Would the regenerative braking be a useful way to check train speeds on the descents (if coasting would accelerate the train too much) without losing all that energy to standard braking?


My understanding is that the main thing limiting locomotives when starting is not the engine power, but rather the friction between the traction wheels and the track. It's a terribly small contact surface for pulling thousands of tonnes.

Yes, they have these things that blow sand between the wheels and the track, but they still have to take it very slow to avoid slipping.


Excuse me... when did batteries start 'storing' electricity (see their diagram). Batteries don't store electricity, they produce it by chemical reaction. I can't believe this is news to anyone on this board.

Benny Jay

Primary batteries deliver electrons from a chemical reaction.
Secondary or rechargeable batteries do in fact shuttle electrons between the positive and negative electrodes in the charge and discharge processes. It is correct to say that such cells "store" electrons in the negative electrode. In lead-acid batteries, two electrons are stored in each lead ion released upon dissolution of a molecule of lead sulfate formed during a discharge cycle. This process is called "electrochemical reduction." It is electrochemical in nature because the electrons involved in reducing each lead ion in the charging cathode to the gound state must be presented at the exact potential required for capture by the positively-charged lead ion. Proper electronic reduction potential must be precisely regulated by the charger for each cell design. Electrons delivered to the cell cathode at too low a potential will not be captured by the positively charged lead ions and will not be "stored" in the cell. Electrons delivered at too high a potential will result in reduction of Hydrogen ion, depleting the water content of the cell and causing premature cell failure. Electrons stored in reduced lead ion on the negative electrode during the charge cycle originate from lead ion oxidation on the "positive" side of the cell, an electrochemical process which takes ionic Pb++ to Pb++++. In its fully charged state all lead atoms in the positive electrode are in the Pb++++ state; all lead atoms in the negative electrode are in the ground state Pb (no net charge).


Mike, RPT had a conference call on July 6th about a revised economic outlook. Do you have anything on this?

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