AUSTRALIAN freight operator Aurizon has awarded Progress Rail a contract to retrofit a class 4000 diesel locomotive with batteries, in a move which Aurizon says could reduce Australia’s transport emissions and transform the country’s supply chains.

The prototype Battery Electric Locomotive (BEL) is being built at Progress Rail’s Redbank facility in southeast Queensland. The locomotive will be capable of working across Aurizon’s national freight network and handling Australia’s harsh heavy-haul operating conditions.

The design phase and preliminary work on the retrofit has begun and the work is expected to be completed by early 2025, with on-track trials starting in the first half of 2025. Charging infrastructure on the line will be installed at the same time.

Progress Rail will strip the diesel engine, fuel tank, radiators, alternator, two traction inverters and other components from the existing locomotive, and will overhaul and retain the driver’s cab, chassis, bogies and traction motors. It will then install new components including lithium-ion battery packs, control system, inverters for each traction motor and an air compressor.

The new 4.5MWh battery system will also be able to capture energy produced during regenerative braking.

Aurizon has more than 120 class 4000 locomotives, meaning a successful battery conversion could provide a faster, less expensive pathway to decarbonisation. The company is aiming to achieve net-zero operational emissions by 2050.

“Modern freight locomotives using renewable energy sources have the potential to transform the nation’s freight supply chains for customers, communities and the Australian economy,” says Aurizon managing director and CEO, Mr Andrew Harding.

“Not only will this dramatically reduce the carbon footprint for our freight transport needs and the community in general, but it will also provide a significant competitive advantage for Australian industries and exporters in global markets.”