Rail manufacturer Wabtec and iron ore mine company Roy Hill have unveiled the latest version of the FLXdrive, a 100% battery-powered heavy-haul locomotive for mainline service, for the first time.

The 7MW/h freight train made its debut in Pennsylvania, US, ahead of the final battery installations in preparation for its journey to the mining precinct of Pilbara, Australia. 

Wabtec CEO and president Rafael Santana said: “This FLXdrive locomotive represents a major step in the journey to a low-to-zero-emission future in the rail industry. 

“The FLXdrive is driven from within by our battery technology and the innovative spirit of our employees. Roy Hill is an ideal customer to partner with given their leadership and excellent operational record.”

The specially designed locomotive will join Roy Hill’s existing Wabtec fleet, a set of four ES44ACi ‘Evolution Series’ diesel-electric locomotives, to form a hybrid locomotive capable of carrying more than 33,000t of iron ore typically transported by the company’s 2,7000m long consists.

Roy Hill’s use of the locomotive is expected to deliver a double-digit percentage reduction in fuel costs and emissions per train. It has also been designed with a battery thermal management system to allow it to cope with the Pilbara heat, which can reach 55°C.

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Gerhard Veldsman, CEO of Roy Hill’s majority owner Hancock Prospecting Group Operations, said: “The FLXdrive locomotive represents not only a first for the Pilbara, but a first for the mining industry. The technological smarts that have gone into the development of the loco make it well-suited for our rail network.

“By using regenerative braking, it will charge its battery on the 344km downhill run from our mine to port facility and use that stored energy to return to the mine, starting the cycle all over again. This will not only enable us to realise energy efficiencies but also lower operating costs.”

The original generation of the FLXdrive locomotive, which operated at 2.4 MW/h, was first unveiled in 2021 after a three-month pilot test programme in California.