Hydrogen test locomotive wins $4 million from California Energy Commission


The California Energy Commission awarded Sierra Northern Railway and GTI nearly $4 million to fund the design, integration, and demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive.

The funds will be used to retire a Tier 0 diesel locomotive and to replace it with a zero-emission switching locomotive using hydrogen technology. The project involves integrating hydrogen fuel cell, storage, battery, and systems control technologies.

Testing this technology is expected to establish a platform for future commercialization. Most switcher locomotives in California use an average of 50,000 gallons of diesel per year per switcher, potentially leading to a reduction of more than 12 million gallons of fuel per year. This is equal to the amount of fuel used each year by 20,000 light-duty vehicles.

Sierra Northern Railway is the technical lead and has partnered with GTI as the formal applicant. Other partners are Railpower Tech LLC, Ballard Power Systems, Optifuel Systems LLC, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Valley Vision, Velocity Strategies, Southern California Gas Co., and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

Sierra Northern Railway is the freight division of privately-owned, Sierra Railroad, which also owns Sierra Energy Corp., developer of a waste-to-hydrogen gasification technology.

In early January, BNSF Railway Company and Wabtec began testing a battery-electric locomotive in revenue service on a 350-mile run between Barstow and Stockton, California.

As part of the test, the lithium-ion battery equipped locomotive is placed 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.

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