Axion to Aid Norfolk Southern’s Battery-Run Locomotive

Axion to Aid Norfolk Southern’s Battery-Run Locomotive

Norfolk Southern Railway is tapping Axion Power International to develop a battery management system for the all-electric yard locomotive it unveiled last year.

NS brought Axion in to help the company come up with a way for all the 1,080 12-volt batteries on the yard engine to discharge and recharge at the same pace, said NS spokesman Rudy Husband.

The railroad built the prototype 1,500-horsepower plug-in switching locomotive with help from a $1.3 million federal grant, and introduced it in September at its Juniata Locomotive Shop in Altoona, Pa. The unit harvests power produced through braking to help recharge its huge pack of batteries

“We used the frame of an old GP38 (locomotive model) and built it from the ground up,” said Husband. The unit is based and tested at Altoona but the company has taken it around its eastern-U.S. network to show off, and recently displayed it last month for lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

But making it work efficiently means getting control of the discharge and recharge issues. Axion specializes in energy storage technologies for lead-acid batteries. "The key will be developing a battery management system that is robust, safe, dependable and easy to maintain," said Thomas Granville, Axion chairman and CEO.

The success of the prototype can determine whether NS gets more such all-electric units. “It’s a very deliberative process,” said Husband, “and before we proceed to another project we have to be comfortable with the one we have.”

--Contact John Boyd at
jboyd@joc.com.