Beyond LEADER: Other Fuel-Efficiency Initiatives

Norfolk Southern has identified multiple opportunities to improve locomotive fuel efficiencies. Some do not directly involve locomotives, but instead feature innovative technologies that improve the efficiency of operations.

In addition to LEADER and locomotive rebuild programs, the company’s primary fuel-efficiency initiatives include:

Reduced Train Idling

More than 70 percent of locomotives have been equipped with idle-reduction technologies to eliminate unnecessary idling. More than 2,300 locomotives are outfitted with an automatic engine stop-start microprocessor system that monitors engine and ambient air temperature, among other parameters, and shuts off or restarts engines without operator action.

In 2013, Norfolk Southern launched a plan to equip rail yards in Chicago, Kansas City, Mo., and northeastern Ohio with electric plug-in locomotive engine heaters. Using the heaters, engines can be shut down and kept warm for extended periods without having to be restarted when temperatures drop. (Locomotives do not use antifreeze, meaning they must be kept warm to prevent engine damage in freezing weather.)

In addition to use of technologies, the railroad has an idle-reduction policy in place that requires shop and terminal employees to shut off locomotives unless there is an operational need for them to remain idling.

Rail Lubricator Systems

Norfolk Southern’s Research and Test Department in Roanoke, Va., has worked with industry partners to pioneer rail lubrication technologies that reduce fuel burn and track maintenance costs by reducing the friction between locomotive and railcar wheels and rails.

A major initiative has involved solar-powered top-of-rail friction-modification systems that dispense a liquid friction-modifier on rail surfaces. The liquid modifier is picked up by passing wheels, which reduces downstream wheel-rail friction. The systems are being installed on routes with heavy curvature, helping to reduce rolling resistance and thus the energy needed to pull a train. Rail corridors equipped with these systems generate an estimated 2 percent in fuel savings, in addition to reducing maintenance costs on both tracks and wheels. Because they are solar-powered, the systems can be placed in remote locations where commercial power is unavailable. By the end of 2013, the company had installed 965 of these systems, including 51 during 2013.

In addition, Norfolk Southern in 2013 installed 65 solar-powered gage-face rail lubricators, which dispense grease onto passing wheel flanges to reduce friction between the flanges and the inside face of the rail – the gage – on curves.

Wayside Detecting Systems

Norfolk Southern has helped develop remote-sensing wayside detectors that promote fuel conservation while enhancing safety and reducing track maintenance. In 2013, the company installed two acoustic wheel-bearing detectors, a new technology that can predict future bearing failures based on noise signatures of rolling wheels. Acoustic detectors offer an operating efficiency compared with conventional temperature-based detectors, which identify problem bearings only after they have started to fail. In those cases, the company loses time and burns fuel unproductively in stopping trains en route to remove a railcar with a defective bearing.

The acoustic detectors, costing upwards of $450,000 each, identify issues early enough that a train can proceed to destination, where a railcar can be removed without disrupting traffic flow. We validated the acoustic detectors under criteria established by the Association of American Railroads. The company now has a total of three on some of the busiest main lines: between West Virginia coal mines and Lamberts Point Coal Terminal in Norfolk, Va.; between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Chattanooga, Tenn.; and between Bellevue and Columbus, Ohio.

New Locomotive Purchases

Over the past three years, we have purchased 200 new fuel-efficient alternating-current locomotives, including 50 in 2013. The AC units, which power electric traction motors with alternating instead of direct current, provide superior tractive effort on heavy unit trains, including those moving coal, grain, and crude oil. At low speeds, two AC locomotives can perform the work of three DC units, significantly improving productivity and delivering the economic and environmental benefits associated with reducing the number of diesel engines used in operations.

Distributed Locomotive Power

In recent years, Norfolk Southern has expanded use of distributed power, a technique that involves placing locomotives at intermediate points on a train to distribute pulling power. Lead locomotives are outfitted with equipment to remotely control the other locomotives. The technique primarily is used on heavy unit trains to reduce train drag and lateral wheel-to-rail forces to maximize fuel efficiency.

Low-Torque Bearings

Norfolk Southern several years ago began equipping railcar wheels with low-torque roller bearings at wheel renewal change-outs. The bearing manufacturer estimates fuel savings of 1 to 2 percent compared with the older bearings they replace.

UTCS and Movement Planner

Unified Train Control System and Movement Planner technologies are train dispatch systems that expand a dispatcher’s view of train movements from a single territory to a systemwide perspective. These technologies promote operating efficiencies that help avoid traffic congestion and train delays that can cause excessive idling, fuel burn, and emissions.

In 2013, the company completed rollout of UTCS on all 11 operating divisions, providing the company with an integrated dispatch system. UTCS, an approximately $70 million investment, replaced a hodgepodge of legacy dispatch systems that functioned differently and did not communicate with each other. UTCS offers a “track line” view that employees can access on a laptop or iPad, a feature that helps improve efficiency of operations, such as scheduling track maintenance times.

NS has worked to develop and refine UTCS and Movement Planner with industry partner GE Transportation, the manufacturer of both technologies. UTCS provides a platform for Movement Planner, a software that analyzes thousands of pieces of information and plots the most efficient, cost-effective train moves across a railroad’s network. By mid-year 2014, Movement Planner was operational on all or parts of six divisions, and rollout continues.