Sometimes people mistake a locomotive for a train but there is no mistaking a train for a locomotive. And just like a locomotive isn’t a train and a train isn’t a locomotive, there should be no confusing steam with diesel-electric with diesel-hydraulic with straight electric with hydrogen (fuel-cell-electric) locomotive power. The type of energy supply really is the main factor in determining the locomotive’s physical appearance.
For example, steam engines make use of boilers. In addition, a built-in or coupled-on tender is needed to hold the fuel (e.g. coal, oil, wood) and water before being fed to the firebox and boiler, respectively, the fuel burned to heat the water in the boiler that, when hot enough, changes from liquid to vapor (steam). The steam, in turn, is what powers the locomotive. (See photo at left).
Electric, diesel-hydraulic, as well as diesel-electric locomotives can, and oftentimes do resemble each other, the differences in their physical appearances being nuanced. Sometimes it’s tough to distinguish one from the other, especially when the differences between each are internal.
There should be no argument when it comes to selecting the unequivocal leader where efficiency or performance is concerned: the straight electric. For many a railway company and on many a pike (railway) electricity is the energy supply of choice.
Even among the electric field there are multiple entries: Battery-electric, diesel-electric, fuel-cell-electric (hydrogen) and straight-electric, or simply electric, also sometimes going by the electric-electric moniker.
It is the battery-electric railway conveyance that will be further explored here.
Besides the electricity energy supply being extremely plentiful and relatively cheap because it is comparatively easy to produce, battery-electric operation has its own advantages as in said conveyances are clean-running which make them well-suited to operate in locations where air pollution is known to be a problem.
Moreover, the battery-electric locomotive or train fills the bill quite nicely where a railroad cannot or does not want to fully electrify operations due to the expense and/or the undertaking of physically installing the overhead or third-rail electric infrastructure. In addition, battery-electric power could save railroads money in the long run due to reduced equipment maintenance and fuel costs. It is quite conceivable that the money saved could instead be used to purchase additional locomotives and/or trains, or perhaps even fully electrify a line or entire operation.
On the cutting edge
As it happens, one of the newest entrants, or maybe the newest entrant, into the field is Siemens Mobility’s (of Germany) Mireo Plus B battery-powered train offering.
As explained in a Mar. 17, 2020 company press release, “Landesanstalt Schienenfahrzeuge Baden-Württemberg (SFBW) has ordered 20 Mireo Plus B trains from Siemens Mobility. The two-car electric trainsets with 120 seats can operate on all rail routes with or without overhead power lines thanks to their battery hybrid drive, and are scheduled to operate in Network 8 of the Ortenau regional system.”
As for range, Siemens expressed that on battery-power only in actual railway use which the company terms “real conditions”, the Mireo Plus B trains can travel a distance of about 80 kilometers. According to Siemens Mobility, battery recharging can be accomplished one of two ways: via overhead catenary wires in electrified territory or through the energy generated from slowing through a process called regenerative braking. The containers for the bank of batteries, of which there are two per train, are underfloor-mounted. Battery electricity comes courtesy of a “long service life,” lithium-ion supply.
“‘We’re breaking new ground in converting to climate-friendly propulsion systems in local transport by introducing this new technology and want to commit the company to this technology through contractual arrangements,’” Baden-Württemberg Minister for Transport Winfried Hermann in the release said.
Adding to this, “Andreas Ufer, Managing Director of KfW IPEX Bank, said: ‘The financing not only contributes to an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions, but also promotes innovative and climate-friendly technologies in rail transport.’”
Final delivery for the 20-unit order, meanwhile, is expected to be completed by December 2023.
Images: Roger Puta (2nd); Association of American Railroads (3rd); Siemens Mobility (bottom)