Union Pacific to Operate the World’s Largest Fleet of Battery-Electric Freight Locomotives

Progress Rail is one of the two industry partners that will be providing the electric locomotives for Union Pacific 7 photos
Photo: Progress Rail
The famous net-zero CO2 goal, with its 2050 deadline, is shining bright not just for the automotive industry but a wide variety of mobility and transportation sectors via land, air, or water. When it comes to rails, some are betting on hydrogen, while others, like Union Pacific, are investing heavily in battery-electric alternatives.
Union Pacific Railroad is one of the players in the transportation world that’s committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. At the end of 2021, it published its Climate Action Plan that outlines the steps it plans to take in order to achieve this. But, until then, the immediate goal is to cut these emissions by 25% by the end of this decade.

One of the main ways that Union Pacific plans to do that is by supporting battery-electric technology for locomotives as a viable solution for long-haul service in the near future. The numbers look promising – around 4,000 tons of CO2 could be eliminated for every ten electric locomotives on an annual basis. According to Union Pacific, this would be equal to taking 800 cars off the road, which is no small accomplishment.

The rail company isn’t wasting any time and will start testing its first battery-electric locomotives in yard operations next year. The 20 new locomotives will be purchased from Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company, and Wabtec Corporation, both known as innovators in this field. The stakes are high, as this will lead to the world’s largest carrier-owned battery-electric locomotive fleet. Union Pacific stated that this is the largest investment in electric technology by a U.S. Class I rail, adding up to $100 million. This includes not just the locomotives themselves but also upgrades for the yard infrastructure.

The first zero-emissions locomotives are scheduled to arrive on site in 2023, with the fleet to be completed by the end of 2024. They’ll first undergo performance tests in various weather conditions at the company’s rail yards in California and Nebraska. If all goes all, they will become the world’s largest carrier-owned electric locomotive fleet, active for freight operations.

This sustainable project also benefitted from funds awarded by the Port of Los Angeles, which received a governmental Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) grant.
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Editor's note: Gallery showing various Progress Rail freight locomotives

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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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