Wabtec debuts “world first” battery-powered locomotive
07 November 2023
Wabtec announced the debut of the FLXdrive battery locomotive, described as the world’s first 100% battery-powered, heavy-haul locomotive for mainline service. The company celebrated with its launch customer, Roy Hill, an iron ore miner majority owned by Hancock Prospecting, in a ceremony held at the Wabtec design and development center in Pennsylvania. Once the final battery installations and track testing are completed, the locomotive will begin a 10,500-mile journey in 2024 for delivery to its new home in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
According to Wabtec, the heart of the FLXdrive system is the liquid-cooled battery technology and proprietary thermal management system developed to optimize energy output and battery life. In addition to in-mission regenerative brake charging, FLXdrive locomotives feature a DC fast-charging option utilizing a stationary pantograph. The modular and scalable battery architecture is designed to integrate across multiple rail vehicles and environments, including heavy-haul, yard, regional, commuter, hybrid and specialty locomotives.
“This FLXdrive locomotive represents a major step in the journey to a low-to-zero-emission future in the rail industry,” said Rafael Santana, president and CEO of Wabtec. “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.”
Roy Hill currently uses four Wabtec ES44ACi “Evolution Series” diesel-electric locomotives in a consist to pull trains that are typically 1.6 miles in length carrying more than 33,000 tonnes of iron ore. The FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive will have an energy capacity of 7 MWh, and will be used to form a hybrid locomotive consist with the diesel-electric locomotives and recharge during the trip through regenerative braking.
The FLXdrive manages the overall train energy flow and distribution through its energy management software. It is also designed with a unique battery thermal management system using liquid cooling to withstand the Pilbara heat, where temperatures can reach 55° C (130° F), Wabtec noted.
Gerhard Veldsman, CEO, Hancock Prospecting Group Operations, sees the FLXdrive locomotive as a first not only for the Pilbara region but for the mining industry. “The technological smarts that have gone into the development of the loco makes it well suited for our rail network. By using regenerative braking, it will charge its battery on the 344 km (214 mile) downhill run from our mine to port facility and use that stored energy to return to the mine, starting the cycle all over again,” he explained. “This will not only enable us to realize energy efficiencies but also lower operating costs.”
Based on the route and company’s rail operations, the locomotive is anticipated to provide a double-digit percentage reduction in fuel costs and emissions per train, Wabtec stated.
The locomotive debuted at the ceremony features Roy Hill’s iconic pink livery symbolizing the company’s commitment to assisting research and those suffering from breast cancer. In commemoration, Wabtec donated $50,000 to Linked By Pink, a non-profit organization consisting of Erie, Penn., area survivors diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45.