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CSX looks at liquefied natural gas for locomotives

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CSX and GE Transportation are partnering in a pilot project that will explore the use of liquefied natural gas to power locomotives, but theirs is by no means the only such initiative underway.

BNSF Railway, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National Railway also are or have looked at the feasibility of using the more economical LNG.

"It's incredibly exciting," Marcellus Shale Coalition Spokesman Travis Windle said. "And there are other railroad companies ... testing it. 

In announcing the pilot project, CSX Exective Vice President and COO Oscar Munoz said LNG technology "has the potential to offer one of the most significant developments in railroading since the transition from steam to diesel in the 1950s."

CSX said natural gas-fueled locomotives can travel longer distances without refueling, and gas also offers environmental and economic benefits the company said make freight rail "an even more attractive transportation solution and furthers the industry's ability to absorb traffic from the nation's highways in an environmentally efficient way."

"Locomotives are at an inflection point in balancing engine performance with efficiency and adherence to emissions standards," said GE Transportation CEO Russell Stokes. "As we enter a new era of energy sources and what's possible for rail transport, we are excited to partner with CSX and lead the LNG transformation for the industry."

GE has been testing low-pressure natural gas technology since spring of 2013 and is working closely with CSX and others, the companies said in the news release announcing the project. Field tests are expected to begin in 2014. 

CSX will be working over the next few months to develop a test plan and secure regulatory concurrence. For CSX, GE Transportation will deploy its new NextFuel Natural Gas Retrofit Kits that enable existing Evolution Series locomotives to operate with dual fuel capabilities. The kits allow railroads to use natural gas as a fuel source, reducing emissions and potentially reducing fuel costs while not compromising performance. 

The two companies also will work on the continued development of LNG technology for other classes of locomotives to promote gains across a larger portion of the CSX locomotive fleet and will work closely with key stakeholders and agencies across government to ensure safety, realize environmental and other benefits and advance LNG deployment, they said.

"Without question, consumers, small businesses, medium-sized businesses and manufacturers will all realize huge benefits from natural gas being available and abundant," Windle said. "From home-heating to manufacturing, power generation and transportation, we're seeing enormous cost savings, we're seeing sharp reductions in CO2 emissions and dramatically enhanced energy security.

"As it stands now, natural gas vs. gasoline is about half the price," he said. "So there's a real advantage to using energy resources that are local, that are domestic and that are more affordable."