Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) is to partner with Sierra Northern Railway, Gas Technology Institute (GTI), and other technical professionals to develop and trial a zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell engine for a switcher locomotive.

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

SoCalGas will provide another $500,000 to promote the research.

Switcher locomotive transports goods from ports to nearby warehouses.

By developing a fuel cell engine, the trains will potentially be able to emit less pollutants.

SoCalGas Clean Energy Innovations vice-president Neil Navin said: “We believe hydrogen fuel cell-powered locomotives can play a significant role in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the railways that serve California’s ports and warehouses.

“This research is just part of our efforts to lead the transition to clean fuels in California and it supports our commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and delivery of energy by 2045.”

Under this project, a high-emission Tier 0 diesel locomotive engine will be swapped with an engine that will incorporate a hydrogen fuel cell and storage tank with advanced battery and systems control technologies.

By using hydrogen fuel, the new switcher locomotive will save nearly 10,000 gallons of conventional diesel fuel annually.

It will also cut down the noise and odour related to diesel engines.

Sierra Northern Railway’s short-line operations, which serve the railyard and seaport in West Sacramento, will be used as the testbed for the demonstration of zero-emission technologies.

Sierra Northern Railway and GTI will jointly work with an experienced team of rail and hydrogen industry experts for the engine’s development.

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