Freight rail company, BNSF will begin testing a small number of locomotives using liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative fuel later this year.
"The use of liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel is a potential transformational change for our railroad and for our industry," said Matthew K. Rose, BNSF chairman/CEO. "While there are daunting technical and regulatory challenges still to be faced, this pilot project is an important first step that will allow BNSF to evaluate the technical and economic viability of the use of liquefied natural gas in through-freight service, potentially reducing fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions, thereby providing environmental and energy security benefits to our nation."
BNSF has been working with the two principal locomotive manufacturers, GE and EMD, a unit of Caterpillar, to develop the natural gas engine technology that will be used in the pilot.
The use of natural gas as a transportation fuel results in the emission of fewer greenhouse gases and particulates than diesel fuel.
The idea of using natural gas as fuel in locomotives is not new. The former Burlington Northern used natural gas locomotives in the 1980s and 1990s. BNSF also tested LNG switch locomotives in Los Angeles until they reached the end of their useful life a few years ago.
Improved economics and technology make the use of natural gas in long-haul service more operationally feasible today. The BNSF pilot will be a first step to consider how the technology could be implemented. However, even though natural gas in long-haul service has enormous potential, several significant regulatory challenges need to be addressed.
"The changed market for natural gas in the United States is a critical part of our decision to explore it as a locomotive fuel and in this pilot we will test natural gas engine technology in railroad service," Rose added. "We will be working with the equipment manufacturers, the various regulatory agencies and government officials to address the necessary actions to accomplish this."