Wabtec, in collaboration with Roy Hill, has announced the launch of the world’s first 100 per cent battery powered freight locomotive, which was unveiled at Wabtec’s design and development facility in Pennsylvania. 

Roy Hill’s FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive will feature an energy capacity of 7MWh. Based on the route and the company’s rail operations, the FLXdrive is anticipated to provide a major percentage reduction in fuel costs and emissions per train. 

Once Wabtec completes the final battery installations and track testing, the locomotive will be delivered to its new home in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. 

President and CEO of Wabtec, Rafael Santana, said that the FLXdrive locomotive represents a major step in the journey to a low-to-zero-emission future in the rail industry. 

“The FLXdrive is driven from within by our battery technology and the innovative spirit of our employees. Roy Hill is an ideal customer to partner with given their leadership and excellent operational record,” Mr Santana said.  

Hancock Prospecting Group Operations – the majority owner of Roy Hill – CEO, Gerhard Veldsman, said that the foresight of Roy Hill’s Executive Chairman, Gina Rinehart, has been instrumental in establishing an environment in which the company can successfully leverage the ingenuity of its people alongside key partners like Wabtec to transform its rail and mining operations through next generation technologies. 

“The FLXdrive locomotive represents not only a first for the Pilbara, but a first for the mining industry. The technological smarts that have gone into the development of the locomotive makes it well suited for our rail network,” Mr Velsman said.  

“By using regenerative braking, it will charge its battery on the 344km downhill run from our mine to port facility and use that stored energy to return to the mine, starting the cycle all over again. This will not only enable us to realise energy efficiencies but also lower operating costs.” 

Currently, Roy Hill uses four Wabtec ES44ACi ‘Evolution Series’ diesel-electric locomotives in a consist to pull trains that are typically 2.7km in length carrying more than 33,000t of iron ore. 

The addition of the FLXdrive will form a hybrid locomotive consist with Wabtec diesel-electric locomotives, and recharge during the trip through regenerative braking. The FLXdrive manages the overall train energy flow and distribution through its state-of-the-art energy management software. 

It is also designed with a unique battery thermal management system using liquid cooling to withstand the Pilbara heat, where ambient temperatures can exceed 55°C. 

The locomotive’s iconic pink livery symbolises Roy Hill’s commitment to assisting research and those suffering from breast cancer. To commemorate the FLXdrive’s premiere, Roy Hill, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Wabtec donated USD$50,000 to Linked By Pink, a non-profit organisation consisting of Erie area survivors diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45.  

Featured image: The FLXdrive locomotive. Image credit: Wabtec.

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