Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Electrification evaluation expands

with 9 comments

Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway "Little Joe"

Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway "Little Joe"

The Railway Age has an interesting examination of negotiations between the US railroads and power companies. The idea is the the railway right of way would be used for transmission lines in return for electrification and low cost power for trains.  This is tied to the idea that if there is to be a high speed passenger network then it would have to be electrified. The new power lines will be needed to connect new power sources such as wind farms to the grid. But freight trains could also be hauled by electric locomotives. Indeed the story is illustrated by the image of a Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway electric loco hauling a coal train (“Little Joe”). BC also had it own electric freight railway to haul coal to the coast from Tumbler Ridge – and one of the most inexplicable decisions surrounding the sale of BC Rail was the scrapped that system and its locos (except one pictured below preserved at Prince George).

North American freight trains are mostly hauled by diesel electric locomotives – and one of the ideas floated in this story is that  of dual power locos: the same electric motors could be powered by the on board diesel or the overhead wire. This would also, by the way, capture the energy used to brake trains – currently dissipated as heat – by using the same motors as generators with power being fed back into the system. SkyTrain and the trolleybuses already do this.

New Dual Mode Locomotive

New Dual Mode Locomotive

“A version of the latter, the ALP-45DP, is currently being built for New Jersey Transit and Montreal’s AMT by Bombardier. Such a locomotive would give a Class I the flexibility of operating trains in electrified and non-electrified territory without changing power.”

The railways identified as most interested are BNSF (who have a line into Vancouver) and Norfolk Southern. Notable by their absence – CN and CP.

BC Rail Electric Loco

BC Rail Electric Loco

Post updated from comment June 12, 2009

Written by Stephen Rees

June 11, 2009 at 9:29 am

Posted in Transportation

9 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I would imagine that railroads with steep gradients would opt for electric traction, as it would be far cheaper than diesel. In a time of peak oil, one wonders why more railways are not looking to electric operation?

    DM Johnston

    June 11, 2009 at 12:16 pm

  2. CP should be all over electrification with the steep gradients and long tunnels they have in eastern BC. CN was essentially given BCR so I’m sure they’re waiting for a similar handout before they say a word about electrifying any lines.

    While I agree that scrapping the electric locos instead of repurposing them was a waste, but there was no point keeping 132km of 50kV lines going to what soon became a ghost town.


    June 11, 2009 at 1:10 pm

  3. I think I remember being on a VIA train (in 1987) entering Montreal’s central station when they announced that the lights would dim because they were switching to electric power.

    Ron C.

    June 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm

  4. Yes there are electric suburban train services in Montreal

    Stephen Rees

    June 11, 2009 at 3:40 pm

  5. BCR 6001 is in Prince George BC.
    The electric line at Tumbler was unsustainable – Units suffered from various problems – traction motors had to be replaced three times. Etc

    Electric trains were picked for no ventilation would be needed in the two long tunnels. Government grants were being given out at the time as well.

    It cost 31 million to install the lined and substation in 1980s money.

    However there was a lack of tonnage and the electrics cost a fortune to run and were suffering from break downs.

    The average electrical demand charge in the 1990s was 90,000$ a month – by 1996 the line was unsustainable with electric units.

    October 1 2000 BC Rail went to full diesel operation of the line.

    Source – CMO BC RAIL.


    June 11, 2009 at 7:53 pm

  6. Dual Mode Locos are a rare breed. I can imagine the cost on loco to be pretty high.

    Justin Bernard

    June 12, 2009 at 10:47 am

  7. The Southern Railway Region of British Rail in the UK, had dual mode Bo-Bo Electro-diesels. 750 Volt d.c. 3rd rail (1,600 hp) or diesel (600 hp).


    June 12, 2009 at 11:48 am

  8. The Little Joe was actually owned by the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway. The interurban bought three numbered 801-803 and operated them into the early 1980’s.

    Cody Frommelt

    August 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm

  9. Thank you. The caption and text have been updated.

    Stephen Rees

    August 22, 2010 at 7:39 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: