Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pantograph Interstates

Siemens working on overhead electrification system for trucks on the 710

Los Angeles may be one of the first global cities to adopt a new electric freight trucking system, unveiled by electrical engineering giant Siemens Corp. last week at the 26th Electric Vehicle Symposium, or EVS26.
The new technology, called eHighway, is a highway electrification system that uses overhead electrical wires to transmit energy to freight trucks in select vehicle lanes, similar to modern-day streetcars.
“Most people think about cars when they think of vehicle emissions, but the reality is it’s freight trucks,” said Daryl Dulaney, chief executive of North American infrastructure and cities sector for Siemens.
Siemens’ eHighway is one several technologies the AQMD is investigating. It’s currently running pilots of zero-emission electric and fuel cell trucks at the Port of L.A. and envisions marrying the eHighway to near-zero-emissions technologies to help meet federal clean air standards.
The eHighway’s so-called catenary system uses diesel hybrid trucks outfitted with software that senses when an overhead electrical line is available and automatically connects or disconnects as needed. When the trucks’ rooftop connectors are attached to the electrical lines, the trucks run entirely on electricity. When the connectors are lowered, they run on a hybrid electric propulsion system similar to the Toyota Prius. In hybrid mode, the trucks save 30% on diesel fuel.
In addition to reducing emissions, the trucks also reduce noise pollution. But there is a downside: Siemens estimates the system will cost between $5 million and $7 million per mile to build.
I've joked about doing such things in the past, but I'm pleasantly amused at the idea that someone is doing this seriously.


  1. The obvious thing for both trucks and freight rail is to have the yards electrified. I've read that the least efficient and worst polluting part of a diesel-powered vehicle's trip is when it is idling. But if the switchers / yard tractors are electric then that point source is reduced.

    Electrifying yards would also open the door to needed refurbishment and layout upgrades. The poles that support the catenary can also support cameras, bar-code / RFID scanners, leak sensors, etc. A yard with "dark" corners (blocked sightlines, commo gaps) could be lit up as part of an electrification program.

    The problems our host has mentioned in a previous post ( "Why Freight Will Never Electrify" ) of distance and capacity are minimized in a yard environment. It's a straightforward process to design the transformer pads / sheds so that one or two additional transformer-rectifier modules could be added at a later date.

    P.S. I am aware that container stacks in a multi-modal yard can be quite tall. But going off-wire is a well established technology and the requisite batteries would make a dandy counterweight.

  2. Electrification of yards certainly does have rather fewer problems than mainline railways and yards are the one area I suspect might be electrified by the major railroads (especially if it is done as a concession to deal with NIMBY complaints, like BNSF is dealing with in Long Beach over their much delayed yard construction). That said, I think it would be a last ditch effort so to speak, to deal with such concerns and only if battery powered equipment didn't work out in practice.

    It does raise an interesting potential however, of stringing DC wire over the Alameda Corridor and the yards, with retrofitting of some locomotives as electro-diesels (from what I'm told, it should be fairly straight forward with DC electrification) in order to put an end to all pollution complaints. Lord knows they'd start complaining about EM causing cancer of course.

    Truck yards I don't think would be that suitable to overhead catenary, but should be quite suitable for battery powered vehicles.

  3. Norfolk-Southern's prototype NS-999 :
    "Norfolk Southern Unveils Electric Switcher Engine" (Journal of Commerce article, 28 Sept.'09)
    "BizNS" Nov./Dec. 2009 (N-S newsletter, PDF)
    "Juniata Battery-Powered Yard Locomotive" (page at a railfan site, Apr./May 2012)

    Pictures of NS-999 (Google image search)
    [WARNING - The above search has the usual false positives. The engine numbered "999" in green and black livery is the intended target. Note the bar chart that depicts fuel use while idling. That image leads to the thought provoking page below.]

    "Battery-Powered Locomotives: Compellingly Green Economics" (Seeking Alpha article, 29 Apr.'12)

  4. Just a thought, but am I the only one reminded of Super Mario Brothers (the movie)?

  5. Rail lends itself better to this and would be cheaper than Trolleytrucks. And why not hybrid locos: A full power output diesel-electric fitted with transformer/inverter and pantographs.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.