Hyundai Motor Group chairman outlines strategic directions for 2021 and beyond
Heritage Environmental Services and battery-maker Romeo Power looking for fleet electrification partners

BNSF and Wabtec commence battery-electric locomotive pilot test in California

BNSF Railway Company and Wabtec began testing battery-electric locomotive technology in revenue service between Barstow and Stockton, California. As BNSF seeks ways to further reduce its environmental impact, the advancement of battery technology offers some possible solutions.


The battery-powered locomotive (FLXdrive) will be situated in a consist between two Tier 4 locomotives, creating a battery-electric hybrid consist. When running on the mainline, both the battery-electric and diesel locomotives will power the train.

The battery-electric locomotive is expected to reduce the environmental impact from emissions along the route in an efficient manner, while improving the fuel economy for the entire consist by at least 10%. The pilot test will run from January until the end of March. If the initial pilot proves successful, BNSF will look to expand testing to other locations and operating conditions on its system.

This initiative builds on BNSF’s existing investments in sustainable technologies including idle control, electric wide-span cranes, battery-electric hostlers, automated gates at its intermodal facilities, and Tier 4 locomotives.

BNSF partnered with Wabtec on the development of the battery-electric locomotive, which features an overall energy-management system, including onboard energy storage that, when coupled with advanced system-optimization controls, will improve consist and train performance.

The FLXdrive is the world’s first 100-percent, heavy-haul battery-electric locomotive that optimizes the total energy utilization of the entire locomotive consist. This technology works in a manner very similar to how electric vehicles use regenerative braking. It’s a significant step forward for the rail industry and will change the course for even cleaner, more energy-efficient transport.

—Alan Hamilton, Wabtec vice president, Engineering

The battery-electric locomotive pilot program is part of a $22.6-million grant awarded to BNSF and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District from the Zero- and Near Zero-Emission Freight Facilities (ZANZEFF) project by the California Air Resource Board to pilot several emissions-reducing technologies in and around railyards.

The ZANZEFF project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities.



Same old story; successful applications will depend on battery tech advancements to translate to economic gain. And, once implemented, economic savings and viability should multiply with each battery tech upgrade.

Thomas Pedersen

While I realize that real-life demonstrations are required, I do get a feeling of someone thinking: "So, batteries have worked fine in phones, laptops, bikes, drones, buses, cars, trucks, passenger trains and many more. I wonder if they will work in our trains..?"

A question though: Does the electric locomotive eliminate a diesel counterpart (because the locomotives operate at > 2/3 power once cruise speed is achieved)? If not, 50% more locomotives to save 10% fuel seems expensive.

Arnold Garnsey

Not seeing where this adds 50% more. The battery unit will provide fill in power and recoup from braking. I assume the diesels are diesel electric.

Thomas Pedersen


The battery locomotive is a third locomotive. If the two diesel locomotives are able to pull the train without the battery locomotive, albeit with higher diesel consumption, the battery locomotive is effectively a third locomotive, adding about 50% to CAPEX and less to OPEX.


Fewer diesel units, less fossil fuel consumption.
Amazing possibilities with regen.


The battery capacity of the battery electric locomotive will only allow the locomotive to operate at full power for about 20 minutes so this is not practical solution other than to add power for a relatively short period of time and to recover some of the power generated on the downhill segments which would normally turned to heat. However, even when the battery power is depleted the locomotive can still be powered from the diesel electric locomotives and provide added traction effort although at a slower speed. The two diesel electric locomotives have about 3300 kW each available for tractive power.

This is mostly likely just an R&D effort to work on battery power. BNSF might be considering electrifying sections of some of their main lines. A battery storage locomotive with electric pickup would allow low clearance segments such as bridges and tunnels to not be electrified. The electric locomotive could power the adjacent diesel electric locomotives and conversely the diesel electric locomotives could power the battery electric locomotive if longer segments are not electrified.

The comments to this entry are closed.