CHICAGO BNSF Railway Co. will begin testing a small number of locomotives using liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative fuel later this year, chairman and chief executive officer Matthew K. Rose said March 6 at the IHS CERAWeek 2013 conference in Houston.
"The use of liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel is a potential transformational change for our railroad and for our industry," he said.
"While there are daunting technical and regulatory challenges still to be faced, this pilot project is an important first step that will allow BNSF to evaluate the technical and economic viability of the use of LNG in through-freight service, potentially reducing fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions."
The Class I railroad has been working with Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric Co. and LaGrange, Ill.-based Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. to develop the engine technology to be used in the pilot.
The railroad has powered locomotives with natural gas before, in the 1980s and 1990s, and it tested LNG switch locomotives in Los Angeles until they reached the end of their useful life a few years ago, the Fort Worth, Texas-based company said.
However, improved technology and economic factors make the use of natural gas in long-haul service more feasible today, the company said. The BNSF pilot will be a first step to consider how the technology could be implemented.
"The changed market for natural gas in the United States is a critical part of our decision to explore it as a locomotive fuel," Rose said.
However, Rose added that several significant regulatory challenges need to be addressed. "We will be working with the equipment manufacturers, the various regulatory agencies and government officials to address the necessary actions to accomplish this," he said.