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Hybrid cars, trucks and buses have already hit the road. Now, make way for the Green Goat, the world's biggest hybrid. It's a 2,000-horsepower locomotive that radically reduces fuel consumption and emissions of pollutants.
The Green Goat is a diesel-electric hybrid in which the normal massive diesel locomotive engine is replaced by a 290-horsepower inline 6-cylinder diesel truck engine and a 600-volt battery bank. The batteries supply the power needed to drive the electric traction motors on the wheels of this 280,000-pound "goat."
Goat is railroad lingo for the smaller locomotives used for moving rail cars around over short distances.
RailPower Technologies, developer of the Green Goat, believes the hybrid locomotive is an ideal way to reduce fuel costs and air pollution in switching yards, said Simon Clarke, executive vice president of the Canadian company. RailPower says the Green Goat uses 40 percent to 60 percent less fuel and emits 80 percent to 90 percent fewer pollutants than conventional train engines.
To build the hybrids, the company strips older locomotives of their engine and cab but keeps the same frame, fuel tank, brakes and electric traction motors. Then it slaps in the long-life lead-acid battery bank. RailPower Technologies says the added weight of the batteries actually helps improve the Green Goat's pulling power, which is rated at 2,000 horsepower -- enough to pull 88 rail cars.
The hybrid is mostly an electric locomotive; the diesel engine only operates to keep the batteries at their optimum level of charge.
A day in the life of a typical railroad goat involves pushing heavy loads short distances at low speeds, making frequent stops and sitting in idle mode 70 percent of the time waiting for someone to sort out which rail car goes next. With 10,000 to 15,000 switch locomotives currently active in North America, millions of gallons of fuel are wasted, literally going up in toxic smoke, Clarke said. Burning diesel produces nitrogen oxides, or NOx, a major contributor to air pollution.
This year, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations for locomotives mandate a two-thirds reduction (.pdf) in NOx emissions and a 50 percent reduction in particulate emissions from mid-1990s levels. The Green Goat exceeds those standards and recently received the designation of Ultra-Low Emission Locomotive from the California Air Resources Board.
The green, low-cost machine caught the attention of Union Pacific Railroad, the largest railroad in North America. Mark Davis, a Union Pacific spokesman, said the company is bringing the Green Goats on board in California and Texas. That commitment follows two years of testing to determine fuel savings and emissions levels.
"Fuel is one of our biggest costs, and the price of fuel is going up," Davis said.
Although the newer generation of diesel locomotives is more fuel-efficient than its predecessors, the Green Goat tops them and costs just $750,000, compared with $1 million to $1.5 million for the diesels.
Railserve, a company that provides rail switching services, ordered a Green Goat and six smaller 1,000-horsepower hybrid locomotives called Green Kids last fall with funding from the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, or TERP. TERP allocates approximately $130 million annually to help reduce emissions, mainly from heavy-duty trucks and off-road equipment.
"Texans can not only potentially benefit from the dramatically reduced NOx and particulate levels, but also the considerably lower noise levels from our hybrid locomotives," said Jim Maier, RailPower president and CEO, in a statement about the sale. As many as 30 more RailPower hybrids may get funding this year under TERP.
And the sales keep rolling in. In mid-March 2005, the Canadian Pacific Railway announced plans to purchase 35 units over a four-year period. In a statement, the company said internal studies indicate operating-cost savings approaching $4 million annually as a result of acquiring the 35 Green Goat hybrids.
RailPower is now adapting the Green Goat into a stretch version for longer-distance work on branch lines.
"It will be more of an engine-dominant hybrid with a larger diesel engine," said Clarke. These new hybrids will travel 100 miles or more at speeds up to 50 mph and operate with less idle or recharging time than the unmodified Green Goats. RailPower plans to complete a prototype this year.
Clarke estimated that there are 7,000 diesel locomotives in branch operations in North America.
"We plan to turn some into hybrids," he said.
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