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Aurizon contracts to build battery electric rail locomotive

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Rail operator Aurizon has contracted Progress Rail to convert one of its diesel locolotives to full battery electric operation, paving the way for the greening of its freight-haul rail fleet.

This will be the first freight unit to be constructed in Australia powered by batteries, according to Aurizon, with the locomotive’s battery also capturing re-generative energy created when trains brake or travel downhill.

The prototype is being built at Progress Rail’s Redbank facility in south-east Queensland.

The unit will be designed as a heavy-haul freight locomotive, capable of working at locations across Aurizon’s national footprint and suitable for Australia’s harsh operating conditions, according to a statement.

Progress Rail, part of the Caterpillar company, will retrofit one of Aurizon’s existing 4000-class diesel locomotives – the company has more than 120 of the 4000-class locos in its national fleet.

Aurizon Managing Director & CEO Andrew Harding said the project sits at the heart of Aurizon’s decarbonisation initiatives with a target of achieving net-zero operational emissions by 2050.

Harding said: “Modern freight locomotives using renewable energy sources have the potential to transform the nation’s freight supply chains for customers, communities and the Australian economy.

“Not only will this dramatically reduce the carbon footprint for our freight transport needs and the community in general, but it will also provide a significant competitive advantage for Australian industries and exporters in global markets.

“Delivering high-quality Australian products for export across zero or low-carbon supply chains will be a win- win for Australian companies and Australian communities.”

Senior Vice President at Progress Rail Colin Kerelchuk said the project leveraged the company’s worldwide capabilities, while heavily relying on its expert workforce in Australia.

“We will deliver this EMD Joule out of our Redbank, Queensland facility, where we have recently secured a long-term lease extension to continue operations through 2034.

“With a presence in Queensland since 2015, we are well positioned to deliver broad technology and fleetwide modernizations to improve our customers’ operational and emissions efficiencies.”

Progress Rail’s EMD Joule Battery Electric Locomotive series support a wide range of railway operations with battery capacities up to 14.5 MWh.

Aurizon has also commissioned the University of Queensland and Central Queensland University to undertake sophisticated modelling work and research on emerging battery technology, network infrastructure and charging facilities required to provide renewable electricity to the locomotive batteries.

Locomotives typically have an asset life of 20-30 years, so replacing the diesel engine with batteries and recycling the remainder of the locomotive is less expensive, more environmentally sound and based on circular economy principles.

The design phase and preliminary work on the retrofit has commenced at Redbank. Construction of the locomotive is expected to be complete by early 2025, with on-track trials commencing in the first half of that year.

The charging infrastructure on the selected Australian rail corridor will be completed concurrently.

Picture: L to R: Dr Steven Miles, Deputy Premier of Queensland; Lance McCallum, State Member for Bundamba; Andrew Harding, Managing Director & CEO, Aurizon and Colin Kerelchuk, Senior Vice President, Progress Rail.

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