GE Transportation and CSX Corporation have signed an agreement to conduct a pilot programme next year to assess the usage of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to fuel locomotives.

As part of the programme, GE Transportation will equip its new NextFuel Natural Gas Retrofit Kits that enable existing Evolution Series locomotives of CSX to operate with dual fuel capabilities.

In a statement, GE Transportation said: “Adoption of natural gas-fueled locomotives will make freight rail an even more attractive transportation solution, and furthers the industry’s ability to absorb traffic from the nation’s highways in an environmentally efficient way.”

“We enter a new era of energy sources and possibilities for rail transport.”

Over the next few months, CSX will develop a test plan and attempt to get regulatory agreement. Field tests are expected to begin in 2014.

GE Transportation CEO Russell Stokes said: “Locomotives are at an inflection point in balancing engine performance with efficiency and adherence to emissions standards.”

“As we enter a new era of energy sources and possibilities for rail transport, we are excited to partner with CSX and lead the LNG transformation for the industry.”

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The companies will work closely with key stakeholders and agencies across government to ensure safety, realise environmental and other benefits, and advance LNG deployment.

CSX Corporation COO and executive vice-president Oscar Munoz said: “LNG technology has the potential to offer one of the most significant developments in railroading since the transition from steam to diesel in the 1950s.

“GE Transportation has the know-how to provide the right LNG solution for our locomotive fleet and help us better understand the feasibility of LNG technology from a safety, operations and economic perspective.”