TESTING of the first line-haul hydrogen-powered locomotive for North America reached a new milestone on November 30 when the prototype unit moved under its own power for the first time.

Class 1 Canadian Pacific is designing and building the locomotive using fuel cells and batteries to power the electric traction motors.

Speaking virtually at the Cutric Second Annual Smart Rail Technology Conference on November 30, CP chief engineer Mr Kyle Mulligan said: “We are going to deploy that prototype into one of our terminals in Calgary.” This will be followed by testing on the main line he said.

The diesel fuel tanks on the modified unit have been replaced by the extraction battery system and the cooling system and radiator fans have been replaced by the hydrogen storage. The fuel cells are located where the diesel engine and alternator were. “We are building this in a way that is modular so that we can retrofit existing platforms,” Mulligan said.

Work on the project began in late 2020. “We moved into regenerative braking development and testing at the same time, our locomotive fabrication and assembly,” Mulligan said. “Now we find ourselves here in Q4, where we're doing our final integration control system and factory testing.”

Mulligan told delegates that CP has 1200 diesel-electric locomotives and significant expertise in locomotive modernisation. “We do not purchase new locomotives as much as one would think,” he told delegates. “We reutilise our existing platforms, we modernise their electronics. We rebuild the engines and then give them a new life.

“When we purchase a locomotive, they are typically 50 year assets,” Mulligan explained. “If we were to invest in Tier 4 locomotives today, we would quickly find ourselves post-2050 still burning diesel fuel.” He said CP is trying to leverage its modernisation strategy and incorporate zero emissions technologies. He said that CP’s biggest cost is around fuel and labour.

Mulligan said that the locomotives are already hybrids. “They have electric traction motors that are powered by a diesel engine. If you remove that diesel engine and alternator and replace it with zero emission technology, you already have a platform that can leverage that electric input to provide traction.”

He told delegates that a benefit of the hydrogen locomotive is that the power output that can be created from the hydrogen and batteries can be similar to what is produced from a diesel engine. Mulligan also called this a challenge, but explained that CP has already seen areas that can be optimised in terms of onboard hydrogen storage.

Battery capacity on the prototype is already double what was ordered initially he said, adding that CP believes there will be further developments over the next couple of years. 

For an in-depth look at hydrogen projects across the globe and whether it’s the right alternative fuel, read the October edition of IRJ or click here.