The US’ California Energy Commission has granted nearly $4m to Sierra Northern Railway and GTI to fund the design, integration and testing of a hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive.

Due to reliance on hydrogen fuel-cell technology, the new locomotive is expected to reduce transportation air pollutant and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The funds will be used to replace a tier zero diesel locomotive with a zero-emission switching locomotive using hydrogen technology.

The project will witness the incorporation of hydrogen storage, hydrogen fuel cell, and battery and systems control technologies, thereby creating a substitute for less environmentally friendly diesel-powered locomotives.

Apart from improving the local air quality and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, the demonstration will also reduce noise and odour.

The demonstration and validation of this technology will set up a platform for its widespread commercialisation.

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Short-line operations will serve as a testbed for the demonstration of zero-emission technologies. This is because short-line and switching locomotives represent a significant part of the total locomotive energy use within California as they carry a huge portion of freight.

Sierra Northern Railway stated that most switcher locomotives in California consume an average of 50,000gal/y per switcher, thereby potentially leading to an annual reduction of more than 12 million gallons of diesel.

Sierra Northern Railway president Kennan H Beard III said: “We are pleased to partner with this great team to build and test this innovative zero-emission switching locomotive. We believe this project will help lead the switching locomotive industry to an emissions-free pathway in all ports in the State of California.”

Sierra Northern Railway will act as the technical lead and has teamed up with GTI, a research, development, and training organisation, as the formal applicant to the California Energy Commission.

Other technical partners include Ballard Power Systems, Optifuel Systems, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Valley Vision, Railpower Tech, and more.