Locomotive Engine Heater Project Saves Fuel and Reduces Emissions

Sustainability in Action

Mark Duve, Norfolk Southern’s mechanical engineer of locomotive design, spends many hours developing technologies to improve locomotive performance. His latest project is helping the railroad conserve fuel and reduce environmental impacts.

Mark Duve, Norfolk Southern’s mechanical engineer of locomotive design, spends many hours developing technologies to improve locomotive performance. His latest project is helping the railroad conserve fuel and reduce environmental impacts.

Duve led a project to develop an electric plug-in locomotive-engine heating system that will reduce fuel use and emissions in rail yards and local operations. Because locomotive engines do not use antifreeze, they often must remain idling in cold weather to prevent engine-cooling water and engine components from freezing. With the heater, which is plugged into an external power source, a locomotive can be turned off for extended periods, resulting in environmental benefits and cost savings.

“Idling locomotives consume between three and four gallons of diesel fuel per hour,” Dave said, “and colder weather causes the fuel consumption rate to increase.”

Over the past several years, Norfolk Southern has installed automatic engine start-stop systems on locomotives to reduce idling. They shut down or restart an engine based on ambient air and engine temperatures. During extremely cold winters in the company’s Northern Region, however, the AESS’ start function typically keeps the engines running. By contrast, the electric heating system Duve’s team developed will keep the engine warm when plugged in, making it more effective than the AESS in reducing emissions from engine idling.

Largely through Duve’s efforts, Norfolk Southern received three state and municipal grants totaling more than $2 million to install 45 locomotive heaters and 36 plug-in stations in rail yards in Chicago, Kansas City, Mo., and northeastern Ohio. The plug-in stations include a 480-volt, three-phase power cord, poles, transformers, and a power distribution panel. Train crews connect the 20-foot to 30-foot power cord from the plug-in station to the locomotive heater using a fuel crane that Duve and his team modified to lift and hold the cord. “That makes it easier and more ergonomical for people to pick up,” he said.

Norfolk Southern is the first Class I railroad to adopt a systemwide initiative involving locomotive engine heaters. The three initial projects will save an estimated 247,000 gallons of fuel annually and reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide by more than 80 tons and particulate matter by 2.87 tons. The heaters are being installed first on yard locomotives, where they have the most impact on local air quality. The plan is to continue installing them on yard and local locomotives and then, eventually, on line-of-road locomotives to extend the benefits.

Already, Duve is reviewing grant opportunities to expand the use of the locomotive heaters, including yards in Baltimore, Md., and in Allentown and Pittsburgh, Pa.

Duve worked 16 years at locomotive manufacturer EMD on locomotive performance and emission-reduction projects before joining Norfolk Southern in 2010. He regularly visits terminals and yards on the railroad to get input from crews, trainmasters, road foremen, and mechanical supervisors. “Local employees are best qualified to identify where changes are most appropriate,” he said.

For his work, Duve was recognized as Norfolk Southern’s 2014 nominee for the Association of American Railroads John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award. The award goes to a Class I railroader who displays a high degree of environmental awareness and leadership on the job.