They won't look much different, but the first of 300 fuel-efficient locomotives are about to hit China. Using a lighter weight design, the China Mainline Evolution Series locomotive by GE achieves a peak output of 6,250-horsepower, which is 40% more power than the top-of-the-line Evolution locomotives currently being used in North America. At the same time, the 16-cylinder diesel-electric engine generates 84% fewer emissions and increases fuel efficiency by 3% to 5%. So impressive, it even makes the guys in Erie who manufacture it break into renditions of that song from Top Gun (see video below).
Though freight trains are generally a greener way of transportation than an equivalent number of trucks, the amount of emissions they produce and fuel they use makes them good candidates for clean upgrades. According to GE, during the course of one year a 207-ton locomotive uses enough power to run 160 Western households. The cleaner train should receive a warm welcome in China, where households are clamoring for increasingly more power -- and much less pollution.
Locomotive ad from GE. And then there's this more serious version
GE's been working on the green railroad for years. Its older Evolution units, of which 1500 are on the rails, were the first locomotives to meet the EPA's January 05 Tier II emissions standards. And along with a technology called the Trip Optimizer -- essentially an on-board computer that maximizes train efficiency -- the company is working on a much-hyped hybrid locomotive, which like the Prius stores energy created by breaking in batteries. The hybrid promises 15 percent less fuel consumption and a 50 percent reduction in emissions (though I'm not yet sure how that squares with what sound like better improvements offered by the new China Evolution, above).
Only two of the new trains are on their way by ship to Tianjin from Erie, Pennsylvania, but all 300 are expected to be delivered to China's Ministry of Railways by the end of 2010.
Last year, GE lashed out at an article in the Wall Street Journal that claimed it was pushing the US EPA to lower proposed emission standards on nitrogen oxides. GE says it agrees with the EPA that a 75% reduction in NOx is achievable and sustainable, but "that a 65% reduction is more technologically sustainable over the life of the locomotive." Though it may be hard for GE to get the reductions down further, they're off to a good start.
So too is China. Its railway system is far more extensive and reliable than that of the United States. And along with an investment of $160 billion rail upgrades between now and 2011, the railway ministry has begun to make its trains run cleaner as well. To a public increasingly disgruntled over pollution, that may become the 21st century equivalent of making the trains run on time.