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October 3, 2012

Federal grant to fund hybrid rail locomotive

NEW CASTLE — New Castle will be one of the work locations for development of a hybrid, emissions-free train locomotive.

Penn State University and Norfolk Southern Railroad are teaming up on the project, being undertaken with a $400,000 Federal Railroad Administration Research and Development Grant.

The work developed locally is being done using Axion Power International’s PbC lead carbon battery technology.

According to an Axion news release issued in June, Norfolk-Southern’s 100 percent electric (all-battery) switcher was being rebuilt at its Neshannock Township production facility using a new type of PbC lead-carbon battery suited for both electric and hybrid locomotive applications.

The battery, which bears Axion’s trademark, will repower the switcher called the NS-999.

The recent federal grant will enable Norfolk Southern to continue its research and development of the hybrid locomotive. Norfolk Southern is contributing $590,000 in private sector funding toward the project.

“The work that Penn State and Norfolk Southern Railroad are doing together to design and develop a hybrid road locomotive is exactly the direction the transportation industry needs to be headed,” U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster of Hollidaysburg noted in a statement issued by his office. “This grant will create jobs around the region and allow this partnership to continue its work developing cutting edge technology.”

Gerhard A. Thelen, Norfolk southern vice president of operations planning and support, was quoted in the statement as saying, “It’s a key and visible component of our overall program to keep rail at the head of the list of environmentally friendly transportation modes.”

Shuster’s statement also includes comments from David Wormley, dean Of Penn State University’s college of engineering, who said, “The hybrid locomotive initiative, in which Penn State and Norfolk Southern collaborate, is an exciting complement to Penn State Altoona’s new rail transportation engineering baccalaureate program.

“We are pleased that our faculty and students can continue their research on this project and contribute to development of new and innovative technologies for the rail industry.”

In 2008, Norfolk Southern, in coordination with Penn State and with support from Shuster, began developing of a prototype electric switcher locomotive. The federal funds will allow researchers to continue exploring alternative battery technologies and apply them to the new hybrid road locomotive.

The battery technology designed by Penn State and Norfolk Southern will provide useful benchmarks for evaluating future, alternative battery technologies in both switcher and line-of-road operations for energy savings and emissions reduction.

Work is to take place in Altoona, University Park, New Castle and Roanoke, Va. between now and December 2013.

According to Axion’s June news release, Norfolk Southern bought $400,000 of its PbC battery technology as part of a $475,000 total order that will be used in commissioning the hybrid locomotive.

Norfolk Southern’s next sustainable locomotive project will be a road unit, which the railroad company is considering equipping with PbC batteries — twice the number of those in the switcher, the release said.

Attempts to reach Thomas Granville, Axion’s chief executive officer, for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

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