Ricardo helps Canadian National railroad assess the benefits of natural gas traction

Ricardo helps Canadian National railroad assess the benefits of natural gas traction
10 March 2013

Through the work carried out by Ricardo, it was thus possible to provide a picture of the most significant commercial impacts of operating railway locomotives on natural gas - Canadian National has commenced testing of two Electro-Motive Diesel locomotives converted for operation on natural gas 

  • Exploring the commercial and environmental potential of natural gas as a rail locomotive propulsion fuel
  • Ricardo supported Canadian National by reviewing available engine conversion technologies and their predicted strategic benefits
  • Project provides valuable insights into the potential for using relatively abundant and low cost natural gas in place of diesel

Canadian National is one of North America’s seven Class 1 railroads, and is widely recognized a leader in terms of fuel efficiency. The company has a long tradition of examining and exploiting technology and operating practices aimed at reducing fuel consumption and reducing the environmental impact of its operations.

With the commercial attractiveness of natural gas in North America, due to increased effective reserves and reduced cost of production, Canadian National is investigating the practical implications and benefits of using natural gas as a locomotive fuel.  If successful, its use as an alternative source of locomotive fuel could have both environmental and commercial benefits. Whilst there is a clear saving in the purchase price of natural gas relative to diesel, the commercial case for its adoption as a locomotive fuel must also take account of infrastructure and rolling stock conversion costs. A fuelling infrastructure would need to be constructed, operated and maintained in addition to the adaptation of locomotives for dual fuel operation; the ability to revert to diesel fuel is essential for operational flexibility.

To support Canadian National’s research project, Ricardo management consultants and engineers provided support by reviewing engineering options and the impacts of using gas, most importantly identifying any “Red Flag” issues which could affect viability. Ricardo assessed and evaluated both the currently available engine conversion technologies as well as those known to be in the development pipeline. The company also examined the available technologies for gas storage and distribution, including the development of recommendations for the configuration of a necessary gas tender car required to supply fuel to the locomotive. Through the work carried out by Ricardo, it was thus possible to provide a picture of the most significant commercial impacts of operating railway locomotives on natural gas. Canadian National has commenced testing of two Electro-Motive Diesel locomotives converted for operation on natural gas.

“Ricardo is proud to have been able to help Canadian National in assessing the potential of natural gas as a locomotive fuel,” commented Ricardo head of rail vehicle technology, Jim Buchanan. “This work and the subsequent ‘real world’ operational testing, is making a valuable contribution to the evaluation of this important potential low carbon railway technology. This work further reinforces the reputation and commitment of Canadian National – and of Ricardo – to the development of technology and innovation for fuel efficient railway operation.”
 

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