Rail freight company Aurizon has contracted Progress Rail to build the first zero-emissions-capable freight locomotive in Australia.
This will be the first freight unit to be constructed in Australia powered by batteries, allowing the potential future use of totally renewable energy sources for freight hauls. Batteries will also capture re-generative energy created when trains brake or travel downhill.
The prototype is being built at Progress Rail’s Redbank facility in south-east Queensland. The unit will be designed as a heavy-haul freight locomotive, capable of working at locations across Aurizon’s national footprint and suitable for Australia’s harsh operating conditions.
The Caterpillar company, a global leader in rail technology solutions, will retrofit one of Aurizon’s existing 4000-class diesel locomotives. Aurizon has more than 120 of the 4000-class locos in its national fleet, meaning a successful battery conversion could provide a much faster, less expensive decarbonisation pathway, using fully recycled assets.
Aurizon managing director Andrew Harding said the project sat at the heart of Aurizon’s decarbonisation initiatives with a target of achieving net-zero operational emissions by 2050.
“Modern freight locomotives using renewable energy sources have the potential to transform the nation’s freight supply chains for customers, communities and the Australian economy,” he said.
“Not only will this dramatically reduce the carbon footprint for our freight transport needs and the community in general, but it will also provide a significant competitive advantage for Australian industries and exporters in global markets.
“Australia is ideally positioned to supply the world with great reserves of future-facing commodities that will fuel and feed a decarbonising world for decades to come. This includes commodities such as copper, nickel, rare earths, grain and phosphate.
“Delivering high-quality Australian products for export across zero or low-carbon supply chains will be a win- win for Australian companies and Australian communities.
Progress Rail senior vice-president Colin Kerelchuk said the company was pleased to support Aurizon in achieving its carbon reduction goals.
“This project leverages our worldwide capabilities, while heavily relying on our expert workforce in Australia. We will deliver this EMD Joule out of our Redbank, Queensland facility, where we have recently secured a long-term lease extension to continue operations through 2034,” he said.
“With a presence in Queensland since 2015, we are well positioned to deliver broad technology and fleetwide modernisations to improve our customers’ operational and emissions efficiencies.”
Aurizon has also commissioned the University of Queensland and Central Queensland University to undertake sophisticated modelling work and research on emerging battery technology, network infrastructure and charging facilities required to provide renewable electricity to the locomotive batteries.
Locomotives typically have an asset life of 20-30 years, so replacing the diesel engine with batteries and recycling the remainder of the locomotive is less expensive, more environmentally sound and based on circular economy principles.
The design phase and preliminary work on the retrofit has commenced at Redbank. Construction of the locomotive is expected to be complete by early 2025, with on-track trials commencing in the first half of 2025. The charging infrastructure on the selected Australian rail corridor will be completed concurrently.