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BNSF Railway and Vehicle Projects Demonstrate Experimental Hydrogen Fuelcell Hybrid Switch Locomotive

Rear view of the fuelcell hybrid switch locomotive. The dual Ballard fuel cell stacks are to the left (i.e., rear) of the switcher. Source: Vehicle Projects. Click to enlarge.

BNSF Railway and Vehicle Projects Inc. of Denver/Golden, Colo., a developer of large fuelcell vehicles such as mine loaders and mine locomotives, unveiled an operational hydrogen fuelcell hybrid switch locomotive at BNSF’s Topeka System Maintenance Terminal. (Earlier post.)

Following its introduction, the locomotive is heading to the Transportation Test Center in Pueblo, Colo., for additional testing. Late this summer or early fall, depending on the outcome of the testing, the locomotive will go into service in the Los Angeles Basin, where it will face the test of actual service in the railroad environment.

BNSF operates through several locations that are in non-attainment areas for air quality as designated by the Environmental Protection Agency. We are investigating and experimenting with this hydrogen fuelcell technology for its potential niche application in areas with air quality concerns.

—Mark Stehly, assistant vice president, Technical Research, Development and Environmental

Arnold Miller, president, Vehicle Projects, suggests that the fuelcell locomotive is the least-cost solution for such areas when the social costs of diesel-electrics and the infrastructure costs of catenary-electrics are considered.

The fuelcell powertrain was developed by Vehicle Projects with the support of BNSF, the US Department of Defense and a collaboration of industrial partners. The switcher is being also designed to be able to serve as a mobile backup power source (i.e., “locomotive-to-grid”) for military bases and civilian disaster relief efforts.

Expanded view of fuelcell hybrid switcher. Source: Vehicle Projects. Click to enlarge.

The locomotive features a 240 kW (320 hp) fuelcell prime mover (based on the stacks used in Daimler Citaro hydrogen fuel cell buses. It stores 70 kg hydrogen at 350 bar (5,100 psi) at roofline. A lead-acid traction battery allows transients above 1 MW. The locomotive has 9,000 kg of extra ballast to bring it to 127 tonnes.

The vehicle platform was based on the Green Goat diesel-battery hybrid switcher.



Jack Russell

I suppose it didn't occur to them that running overhead wires and using dual-mode locomotives might be a whole lot simpler.


A lot less than meets the eye here. It's a "Switcher", it wouldn't be hauling freight around the country. It's real mission is to justify getting "Green" money from the Federal government.


Um they just SAID IN THE FREAKING ARTICLE that the cost of infrastructure for electricfication was too high.


The cost of infrastructure for transport electricfication can only be justified if a lot of vehicles will be using it.


United Technology ONSI division has MCFC designs that can take natural gas directly. The unit is about the size of a car parking space and produces 250kw.

You could just put one of those on here and run adsorbed natural gas for longer range at lower pressures. It is not like H2 can not explode or anything.


This project smeels like government waste to me.

Just reading the article it looks like they are getting DOD money, FEMA money, and DOE "green" money to build a "green" coal hauler.

It is going to be a hard sale for me to believe that a hydrogen fuelcell was the cheapest option or the cleanest option. Since hydrogen is produced by reacting natural gas with steam there is more CO2 and other emission released from the manufacture of H2 then if you just burned the natural gas in the first place. I know that some people don't want to admit it because the emmission are far far away where you can't see them.

What is the cost of the added hydrogen infrastructure? Hydrogen systems (as a whole), from production to end use, are horribly inefficient. Fuelcell themselves are great but the system is not that simple. H2 cost will always be neccessarly higher per BTU then natural gas.

It may make since for the military (working in areas where the power is knocked out or deaster relief). I don't see how but maybe. No moving parts is an advantage.

It would be just as easy and way less expensive to have a small gas turbine genset on the train instead of a fuel cell. As far as mining i don't see how its more expensive to electrify a mine than buy a 240 kW fuelcell and all the associated batteries. If you are using a train in the mine, it would seem to me that you have to lay rails and if you already haveing to put down rails why not lay the power rail at the same time. I know it sounds crazy but the NY subway has worked that way for a very long time and it looks alot like a train.

Sounds like someone tring to make there dirty black coal mine look green. You know the saying about ear rings on a pig.

Roger Pham

Two niche-role for this H2-FC switcher:
1) Where vehicular emission is not tolerable
2) As back-up electrical generator during disasters (snow storm etc.)

The long-term future of Heavy-Duty transportation will be H2. Might as well get a head start on the technology.


The rest of the world seems to manage to put up wires. But in the US you have top *pay* property tax on electrification infrastructure. This way, you *get paid* "green" subsidies.

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