UNITED States Class 1 Union Pacific (UP) has signed a $US 1bn deal with Wabtec to modernise 600 freight locomotives to increase fuel efficiency and power output, reduce carbon emissions and equip them with a suite of digital solutions and innovations.

UP says the agreement is “the largest investment in modernised locomotives in rail industry history” and is part of its fleet strategy to move more freight efficiently and sustainably across its service territory, comprising 52,000km of track in 23 western states.

The deal will see Wabtec modernise 525 of UP’s AC4400 and AC6000 locomotives, along with 75 Dash-9s, all of which are diesel-electric locomotives built by Wabtec (previously GE Transportation Systems) between 1993 and 2004.

The modernisations, which will be carried out at Wabtec’s plants around the United States including a dedicated facility at Fort Worth, Texas, will feature a series of digital solutions and innovations. This includes the FDL Advantage engine upgrade, which Wabtec says provides significant fuel savings, better air handling and improved injection, all allowing for enhanced tuning of the engine, and Modular Control Architecture, a next-generation controls technology.

Wabtec says the rebuilds will extend each locomotive’s life and provide benefits such as a fuel efficiency improvement of up to 18%, a more than 80% increase in reliability, and an increased haulage capacity of more than 55%.

The new deal is the third modernisation order to be negotiated by UP since 2018, with more than 1030 locomotives due to be upgraded when the programmes are completed in 2025.

“Wabtec’s modernisation programme helps make our existing fleet more fuel efficient, capable and reliable,” says Mr Lance Fritz, chairman, president and CEO of UP. “The resulting increased tractive power enables us to move more freight with fewer locomotives, which improves efficiency and reduces emissions.”

Another aim is to help UP meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% between 2018 and 2030, with the eventual goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The company says it also wants to support its customers’ efforts to meet their own reduction targets.

“Union Pacific is taking thoughtful, deliberate steps to reduce our environmental impact and to help our partners improve theirs,” says Fritz.

Wabtec says the modernisations to the Union Pacific locomotives will provide approximately 350 tonnes of carbon reduction per locomotive per year, meaning the total order will enable to freight carrier to realise approximately 210,000 tonnes of annual emission reductions -– the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the roads.

Also helping to achieve goals of sustainability is the fact that during each modernisation rebuild more than half of the locomotive’s weight of materials will be reused. Throughout the order approximately 70,000 tonnes of steel will be reused and recycled.

“Modernisations are a gamechanger for our customers, offering the ability to realise significantly more value from our existing locomotive assets,” says Mr Rafael Santana, president and CEO of Wabtec.

“By customising these solutions for our customers and installing state-of-the-art technology, we are helping our customers realise outcomes including increased tractive effort, fuel efficiency, reliability and adhesion, which reduce maintenance, repair and overhaul expenses.”