by Tammy Hart

Development of electric-powered vehicles began in the 1800’s – but the general U.S. public didn’t become familiar with the hybrid series until 2000 when Toyota introduced the gasoline-electric nickel hydride battery-powered Prius to the market. Since then, NYC Transit has led the way in the development of hybrid technology with a fleet of about 325 hybrid electric-powered buses. Now, with the ever-increasing number of imports to the United States , the hybrid concept is being applied to the locomotive industry.

Railpower Technologies is a Canadian manufacturer of the Green Goat, a smaller diesel-electric hybrid locomotive designed for moving rail cars over short distances. These locomotives are remanufactured from aging diesel-electric switchers. The electricity is used to replenish a large bank of rechargeable batteries, which are connected to traction motors that power the locomotive. As a result, the Goat is much quieter, more efficient, and less polluting than a conventional diesel-electric switcher.

In addition to its environmental advantages, a hybrid switcher or locomotive will operate more efficiently at higher altitudes and up steep inclines, with significantly more horsepower than what is available to traditional locomotives. The diesel-electric hybrid is equipped with a 290-horsepower, inline 6-cylinder diesel truck engine and a 600-volt battery bank. It is mainly an electric locomotive, with the diesel engine only operating long enough to keep the batteries at their optimum level of charge.

GE built its first gasoline-electric locomotive in the early 1900’s, and diesel-electric freight locomotives have been part of their product line since the 1960’s. Today GE engineers are in the process of designing locomotives that capture the energy dissipated during braking and store it in a series of sophisticated batteries – similar to those of hybrid automobiles. This stored energy can be used on demand, thus reducing fuel consumption by as much as 15 percent and emissions by as much as 50 percent – exceeding current EPA regulations for reduction.

According to GE, if all North American locomotives manufactured prior to 2001 were replaced with the hybrid series locomotives, railroads could achieve a fuel-cost savings of approximately $425 million each year. .