Innovation is Changing How We Think About Railroads

Railroad history dates back to the 1550’s in Germany where horse drawn wagons or carts moved along railed roads consisting of wooden rails. Modern rail has come a long way. Today, there are myriad forms of rail transportation that connect people and goods throughout the world. Without the powerful locomotive, modern day rail transportation would not be possible. Yet locomotives, largely diesel powered, emit large amounts of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

GE’s latest diesel-electric powered locomotives are far more efficient and cleaner than locomotives of years gone by. Their Evolution series locomotives reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter by 40% and also achieve a 3% savings in fuel costs. What is even more impressive is the development of a hybrid locomotive that will capture the energy dissipated during braking and store it in batteries that can then be reused by the crew on demand. This will reduce not only fuel consumption, but emissions as well.

In addition to designing locomotives that are more efficient and cleaner for the environment, other changes in technology have helped evolve railroads in a better way. For instance, GE’s Trip Optimizer, which took ten years to develop, takes into account factors such as the train’s length, weight, track conditions, weather, and locomotive performance to ensure that the train is operating at optimal efficiency. On average, trains using this technology use 7% less fuel. In terms of environmental savings, for every 1,500 Evolution locomotives outfitted with this technology, 95,000 cars are removed from the road. Now, that’s progress!

GE’s latest data visualization allows users to search their annual reports dating back to 1892, showing how GE’s involvement in railway innovation has furthered the industry over the years. Starting with the first electric locomotive in 1895, GE now has over 15,000 locomotive engines powering rail transportation in more than 60 countries around the world. Using the viz, you can see how GE’s innovations in rail are not just limited to locomotives and technology. It has also worked with Amtrak in testing a biodiesel blend known as B-20 on some the rail line’s GE locomotives. GE has already modified its locomotives to run on biodiesel in Brazil.

Innovation in clean technology can take place in every facet of our lives. While solar, wind, and other renewables take the lion’s share of the press, innovation in rail transportation is just as important. Whether it is the locomotive itself, efficient management systems, or use of biofuels, innovation in these areas has helped reduce fuel consumption and makes the air we breathe a little cleaner.

Sponsored post: Written in collaboration with GE

Walter Wang is Managing Editor of CleanTechies. Follow Walter on twitter: @energytaxprof.

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