Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with researchers at the University of California Los Angeles and Berkeley, are proposing to upgrade electric trains by equipping them with batteries. This will make them cost competitive with diesel fueled trains and help reduce costs in the rail freight sector. It will also reduce air pollution from carbon dioxide emissions.
Freight trains in the US are still diesel-electric because it is more difficult for the country to electrify lines over rail tracks due to the vast distances. In diesel-electric trains, the engine is connected to an alternator, which supplies electricity to electric motors connected to the locomotive’s axles. Therefore, re-equipping trains for battery power due to the presence of an electric motor seems real. The recent steep decline in battery prices is also contributing to the electrification of freight trains.
Trains play an important role in transportation in the United States, especially for heavy goods such as coal, timber, and ore.
New battery trains will always be able to use the diesel engine as a backup fuel source. Historically, diesel-electric trains were used in the United States as power generators during emergencies. In early 1998, ice storms left over a million people without electricity in the northeastern United States and parts of Canada. In one suburb of Montreal, the mayor relocated an entire diesel-electric locomotive to the mayor’s office to provide residents with electricity in an emergency. With the rise in extreme weather and power outages, battery-powered trains can be used to avoid blackouts.