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General railway discussions

Hydrogen train article.

Part 1

A different kind of steam engine: How CPKC aims to decarbonize its fleet with hydrogen locomotives​

KELLY CRYDERMAN
PUBLISHED 6 HOURS AGOU PDATED 2 HOURS AGO
FOR SUBSCRIBERS

CPKC's third-ever hydrogen locomotive, and first-ever high-speed hydrogen locomotive in Calgary on March 19. JUDE BROCKE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL


If you’re used to watching freight trains click by in Western Canada, a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive wouldn’t immediately stand out. It looks the same. It moves the same. It’s still steel wheels on steel rails.
However, when a crew member steps aboard one of these Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) Ltd. test locomotives, the first question is nearly always “Is it running?”

Compared with ubiquitous diesel-electric locomotives, the soundlessness of this vehicle undersells its power. Occasionally, a compressor from the rear will sigh, but the main noise is a soft electrical hum. There is no noisy diesel engine and no smelly exhaust. The locomotive emits nothing but a stream of steam.

“We didn’t want to approach the public by showing renderings of what could be possible. We wanted to make sure we did what we said we would do and build something that works,” said Kyle Mulligan, assistant vice-president of operations technology at CPKC.

“Hydrogen could be considered a fuel of the future.”

Rail is sometimes viewed as an old industry or a low-tech one. But with its small fleet of Alberta-designed and built fuel cell locomotives, CPKC has jumped ahead in the global race to harness the power of hydrogen. The simplest, lightest and most abundant element in the universe can be a low-carbon energy carrier and is seen by many as an integral part of any energy transition.

In October, 2020, the Calgary-based company – then Canadian Pacific, or CP, before a historic merger with Kansas City Southern last year – announced its plans to build a hydrogen-powered locomotive, based on a successful pitch from Dr. Mulligan to chief executive officer Keith Creel. Over the past 3½ years, the project team has grown from three people working with an $8.5-million budget to a group of 15 engineers, mathematicians and scientists with tens of millions of dollars at their disposal – much of it federal and provincial government funding.



Kyle Mulligan, Assistant Vice President of Operations Technology, right, talks about CPKC's hydrogen locomotive on March 19.JUDE BROCKE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

CPKC now has three diesel freight locomotives retrofitted with hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries. It plans to build three more, all marked with a distinctive lime-green paint, by the end of the year. The software and electrical design is done in-house, and the fabrication and assembly is all done in Calgary or by an Innisfail, Alta., contractor.

The company will test its 4,400-horsepower locomotive, the newest and most powerful of the first three, on the challenging grades of the Rocky Mountains in July – even travelling through the iconic loops of the Spiral Tunnels.

Some day, these prototypes and real-world tests could result in a massive transformation. “With the right funding support” from Ottawa and the Alberta government, Dr. Mulligan believes CPKC could decarbonize 65 per cent of its Canadian locomotive fleet – 700 vehicles on the busy tracks of Western Canada – within two decades.

“This locomotive you’re sitting in, this is designed for moving freight transcontinental. And no one has ever built something of this magnitude,” he said during a demonstration at CPKC’s downtown Calgary facilities, a stone’s throw from the 110-year-old Fairmont Palliser Hotel, built to accommodate passengers from Canadian Pacific’s westward expansion.

The hydrogen program fits in with the pragmatic green image the company is trying to cultivate. Mr. Creel already brags that rail transport is four times more fuel-efficient than trucking.

And he said this year that part of what has driven initiatives such as the hydrogen program is the outlook of the company’s largest shareholder, Sir Christopher Hohn. The founder of London-based TCI Fund Management Ltd. has a legendary reputation for both his investor and climate activism.

“I met with him many, many times,” Mr. Creel said, speaking on the Business Council of Canada’s podcast. “And in fact, based on one of those meetings, it drove action.”

There is an array of hydrogen passenger trains running in China and Europe – and, closer to home, in Quebec’s Charlevoix region and soon in San Bernardino, Calif. But Dr. Mulligan says CPKC’s high-power locomotives are much different, as they are meant to be workhorses on the busy freight lines that transport Western Canadian commodities such as grain, potash, sulphur and coal to Pacific ports (oil, which often travels by rail, moves mostly east and south).

“We’re ascending the Rocky Mountains. We’re pulling basically our heaviest train that we operate. We’re going across four very different seasons of weather,” Dr. Mulligan said.

With a goal of having five hydrogen locomotives running in the near future on multiple routes including Calgary to Edmonton and Calgary to Golden, CPKC is hoping to model a new type of technology to demonstrate to other companies what is possible.JUDE BROCKE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL


The challenges of making the new fleet as powerful as a diesel-electric locomotive are substantial. For instance, the fuel cells don’t leave a lot of room for the hydrogen fuel itself. To give the locomotives more range, the CPKC team fabricated a tender car that attaches to the locomotive and holds more hydrogen. If need be, direct-to-locomotive refuelling trucks can be deployed, too.

Odourless, colourless and tasteless, hydrogen is an energy carrier rather an energy source, per se. But it can be used to store, move and deliver energy produced from other sources. The hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water.

It’s natural that a suite of hydrogen projects would go ahead in this province, whether it is Canada’s first hydrogen community or Air Products and Chemicals Inc.’s $1.6-billion net-zero hydrogen complex – both located near Edmonton. According to the Alberta government, Canada ranks in the top 10 of global hydrogen producers, and the province is the largest hydrogen producer in the country.

But similar to EVs, which are only as green as their source of electricity, where the hydrogen comes from matters. While using hydrogen doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, the energy-intensive processes to produce it do. Most commonly, the world produces hydrogen from natural gas, as is the case in Alberta. And in 2022 Alberta produced two million tonnes of unabated hydrogen and half a million tonnes of natural gas-based hydrogen abated with carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

That latter category is called “blue hydrogen,” and that’s what CPKC plans to primarily use to power its locomotives in the near term. Dr. Mulligan said that by using low-carbon blue hydrogen “we’re at 83-per-cent reduction in overall emissions compared to diesel – for every locomotive converted.”
 
Part 2

Once the locomotive makes it over the mountains this summer, it will be put to work in a partnership with Teck Resources Ltd. for the transportation of steelmaking coal, which will be moved from Teck’s four operations in southeastern B.C. to tidewater. The natural question is whether there is anything incongruous about a zero-emissions locomotive transporting coal.

Dr. Mulligan replies that the goal is to make the entire process greener. “Teck is very focused on emissions reductions. Part of their emissions generation is moving that coal to port.”

Safety is also a key concern, as hydrogen can ignite more easily than either gasoline or natural gas. With that in mind, the pressurized, carbon-fibre-reinforced cylinders that hold the fuel are mounted on the top of the locomotive so that, in the event of a leak, the lighter-than-air hydrogen will rise up and away.

There is also a leak detection system and a flame sensor. In an emergency, the crew’s job is to hit the fuel cutoff switch, report and leave the locomotive.

At this point, CPKC’s hydrogen project is more about reducing the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of rail transport than about profits. Retrofitting a locomotive to hydrogen is about 30 per cent more expensive than simply buying a new high-powered diesel-electric locomotive.

The company has already received considerable funding from Emissions Reduction Alberta, as well as the federal government’s Low Carbon Economy Fund. CPKC will be looking for more government money to scale up.

But there will be financial benefits, including lower maintenance costs, as these locomotives are far more high-tech than regular diesel-electric locomotives. They feature an electronics system that looks for issues, sends notifications if it identifies problems and will ideally minimize downtime.

And some day, down the tracks, CPKC’s $1.8-billion-per-year diesel fuel bill could be reduced as hydrogen procurement becomes more important to the company and it continues to build up its hydrogen-powered fleet.

“Ninety-two per cent of our Scope 1 emissions are generated by locomotives,” Dr. Mulligan said. “So if we’re going to decarbonize, we need to be focused on the locomotives.”
 
This is truly a bizarre story. What could have been the two men's motivation? It's not even like they were illegally renting them out. They were actually living in them?

 
In other UT forums, people (besides me) bring up the need for more passenger rail in the province. It can be fit into 2-3 categories; Commuter/RER and intercity.

Two place that have been discussed for commuter rail is London and Ottawa. Obviously, it would not be a 12 car train running at 15 minute 2WAD, but many of the ideas are enough for single level coaches, much like what GO started with. The problem with starting anything up is who should do it and where should the funds come from. Currently, GO is a provincially funded entity. Money may come from the various regions an counties it serves, but it is funded through the province. The regional commuting of London and Ottawa is no different than Toronto in that regard. Is there enough for a train? We-Don't-Know. What could be a good first step is just like GO in the GTA, have buses running. Do a 5 year pilot program to build demand. On those routes that have a high enough ridership, put in a train. They don't need to be bilevels, but if the province wanted to keep the rolling stock the same, it could be. The first GO single level coaches had seating for 94. The bilevels hold 360. It looks like (and someone can correct me on this) the original GO trains had 7 coaches including the cab car. for a total of 658. That is 2 bilevels. Imagine today seeing a train with 2 bilevels running in the GTA? Run 2 bilevel trains in Ottawa and London.


There is a lack of good intercity rail in the province. Even with what Via offers,there is a demand for more. The problem is, Via is largely ignored by the federal government.With the restoration of the Northlander in a few years, A conversation about the province expanding intercity rail where it can should be had. For example, have an express train early in the morning to actually bring commuting to London-Toronto Four hours was ridiculous. Not having it timed for someone to get to Union before 9am was equally ridiculous. It could be better suited to a Via style stop system. Putting it in, expanding it, and even adding more tracks where needed and where can fit is something the province has shown they can do with GO/Metrolinx.

If the Northlander is successful, my hope would be that Ontario Northland looks at their bus system and begins the process of looking at where they could expand passenger rail to. Obviously, they do not own the tracks elsewhere, yet.I say yet because I feel that HCR will likely fold within a few years due to the shutdown of Domtar in Espanola.


RouteNumber of busesOwnership
North Bay - Toronto4CN
North Bay -Timmins/Cochrane1ONR
Timmins - Cochrane2ONR
Sudbury - Toronto3CN/CP
Sudbury - Timmins - Hearst1None
Sudbury - North Bay - Ottawa1OVR/Abandonned
Sudbury - North Bay3OVR
SSM - Sudbury1HCR

This table illustrates a few things:
1) It shows the demand is between Toronto - North Bay -Sudbury as a triangle. With the highest number of buses it is where the demand really is.
2) It shows that outside of that, demand may not be there. I am expecting north of North Bay, the Northlander won't be full.
3) It shows that if you own the line, running a single train may be worth it.
It also begs the questions:
1) If the province owned the HCR, would running a single passenger train along it once a day, every day be realistic?
2) Should a train be run along the OVR daily between Sudbury and North Bay?
2a) If one were run,and were timed to meet the Northlander going North, could that draw the Sudbury riders going to Timmins off the bus?
3) Is the break even point 4 buses on a route owned by another company?
4) What would the business case be to return the old Ottawa Valley route be?
4a) How many freight customers would be needed?
4b) Does that exist, but not utilized?

Two things to think about:
1) This housing crisis we are in could be resolved easier if more places had more options for transportation. Northern ON has lots of land to build on. Without good inter city transportation options outside of the Corridor, you see the skyrocketing housing costs happen.
2) Without planned commuter service, the sprawl will just keep happening without any real checks and balances. It wasn't good for the GTA, it isn't good for London or Ottawa.
 
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Does anyone have more info on Powers Crossing in Hamilton? This is where the old TH&B Waterford Sub (now the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail) crosses Ancaster Creek. I've picked up that the line was abandoned in 1989, opened as a trail in 1996, and there may have been a berm put here sometime before 2003 (maybe during the trail conversion?) to provide flood control. But I can't seem to find much evidence of the bridge that once stood there, just really old photos of the trestle from the turn of the 20th century.
 
Does anyone have more info on Powers Crossing in Hamilton? This is where the old TH&B Waterford Sub (now the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail) crosses Ancaster Creek. I've picked up that the line was abandoned in 1989, opened as a trail in 1996, and there may have been a berm put here sometime before 2003 (maybe during the trail conversion?) to provide flood control. But I can't seem to find much evidence of the bridge that once stood there, just really old photos of the trestle from the turn of the 20th century.

There's a bit here:


I didn't see any good pics at this link, but the footnotes might be a source of info:

 
Not sure if this is the right thread...but figured I'd throw it in here. It's not really being reported in the media but it should be.


Industry insiders are reporting (preparations are underway to mitigate from a good movements prespective) that a strike or a lockout is fully expected to happen starting May 22nd for both CN/CPKC. Freight and Passenger (ex.GO) will be at a full shutdown. Likely the government will have to step in or entire industries will come to a halt (Winnipeg only has two days of fuel reserve for the entire city as it gets railed in every day, entire floors of hospital workers take the GO Train)
 
Not sure if this is the right thread...but figured I'd throw it in here.
No worries, if it‘s rail and doesn’t really fit in the existing threads like VIA Rail, Quebec-Windsor Corridor, Ontario Northland and the various GO threads, then of course it belongs here!

Will certainly be interesting to see the implications of this strike onto passenger and freight rail operations in this country…
 
What is sad is CN was originally created as a way to save all the short line railways. It seems ever since going privately owned, they became just line every other railway.
 
On another note... here's something you don't see everyday in Canada - video footage of that CN/EXO train crash in Montreal from last November:
View attachment 531014

Gotta admit this much, Crash National doing a bang-up job of maintaining their reputation 👍
If the emergency brakes were applied before the crash wouldn't you see sparks before the impact?
 

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