Norfolk Southern’s locomotive rebuild program, unique among large U.S. railroads, extends the useful life of locomotives, generates substantial capital savings, and reduces environmental impacts. The in-house knowledge developed has given the company more independence and greater control over assets vital to the business. It is an example of how Norfolk Southern searches for creative uses of capital and leverages strategic and competitive advantages for best returns – economically and environmentally.
At the end of 2014, 69 percent of Norfolk Southern’s 4,265 locomotives were built before 2000, with an average age of 23.1 years. In an era when new often is equated with better, Norfolk Southern is changing the equation by rebuilding and reusing many of these older locomotives.
At locomotive shops in Altoona, Pa., and Roanoke, Va., employees take locomotives built between the 1970s and 1990s and transform them into like-new units. They are equipped with customized and cost-efficient engine technologies that improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and extend the life of a locomotive asset by up to 20 years. The rebuilds also are good for the bottom line, costing about half what the company would spend on a new replacement locomotive.
Between the Altoona and Roanoke shops, employees are working on rebuilds of more than a half dozen locomotive models used in yard, local, and line-haul service. Their steel platforms, wheel assemblies, traction motor frames, and engine blocks are reused. This recycling generates additional environmental benefits by avoiding the energy and emissions generated by melting scrapped steel and manufacturing steel parts for new locomotives.
The SD60E locomotive, a product of the ingenuity of Juniata shop employees at Altoona, showcases the environmental, economic, and social benefits.
Between 2010 and early 2015, the shop had rebuilt 105 of the 4,000-horsepower long-haul locomotives, manufactured in the 1980s by EMD. The shop expects to refurbish about 170 altogether. Recycling them rather than buying new units to replace them is expected to save the company around $240 million.
Engine upgrades, including adding electronic fuel injection and a patented engine cooling system, significantly improve fuel efficiency over the original SD60 engines. The 105 SD60E locomotives now pulling trains could save more than 500,000 gallons of diesel annually.
Reducing fuel burn lowers emissions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fuel savings from the existing fleet of SD60E locomotives are expected to reduce CO₂ by up to 6,000 tons annually – roughly equivalent to removing 1,200 cars from the highway. Third-party testing of the SD60E engine upgrades has shown emissions of hydrocarbons to be 80 percent, particulate matter to be 45 percent, and NOx to be 17 percent better than the regulated emissions standards for those pollutants.
The rebuilds have added creature comforts and improved work conditions for train crews. Built of high-strength steel, the new cabs, an in-house design, are much roomier and feature padded floor and ceiling, sun visors, and a conductor console table for reviewing work assignments and notices.
Putting the “E” on the SD60
The E stands for “enhanced.” Here are key enhancements being made on the SD60E and other locomotive rebuilds that generate economic and environmental benefits.
ELECTRONIC FUEL INJECTION: The injection system distributes fuel more precisely to each engine cylinder, requiring less fuel to achieve the same power level. In turn, emissions are cleaner; in particular, engine opacity, or smoke, and particulate matter are reduced.
DUAL-CIRCUIT ENGINE COOLING: This Norfolk Southern-patented radiator system works with the engine’s primary radiator to cool intake air and radiator jacket water. The system lowers after-cooler water temperature, which cools engine inlet air, improving fuel economy and reducing emissions, in particular nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons.
AUTOMATIC ENGINE STOP/START: The stop/start system has sensors that reduce unnecessary engine idling – and thus emissions – by shutting off and restarting the engine based on engine temperatures.
LEADER: The Locomotive Engineer Assist Display Event Recorder train-handling system is an onboard energy management system that calculates optimum train speed and braking needed to achieve maximum fuel efficiency.
An indoor emissions-testing facility that Norfolk Southern constructed at the Juniata shop in 2012 has advanced the company’s rebuild program and expertise in engine technologies. The two-story climate-controlled facility, one of only a handful of its kind in North America, enables the company to quickly and efficiently test and fine-tune engine designs for fuel economy and emissions reduction.
In addition, Norfolk Southern allows for third-party emissions testing for the Association of American Railroads, locomotive makers GE Transportation and Electro-Motive Diesel, and for other large freight railroads.
The company uses the facility to design cost-efficient emissions kits for locomotives in the rebuild programs. As of mid-2015, the Environmental Protection Agency had certified two of the company’s custom emissions kits for SD60E rebuilds. Having an EPA certificate means the company can comply with federal emissions standards using kits built with less expensive, reconditioned aftermarket parts.
Beyond cost savings, the company has introduced supply-chain competition among companies that make engine components for emissions kits. The kits include parts such as engine pistons, turbo chargers, fuel injectors, and computer software for engine electronics. Before, when locomotives were scheduled for engine overhauls, the company had little choice but to purchase the kits from the original locomotive manufacturer.
“If you have to purchase somebody else’s emissions kit, you’ve got to conform to their parts, their maintenance instructions, and their price,” said Don Faulkner, general superintendent of the Juniata shop, who oversees the rebuild programs. “The beautiful thing about owning our own EPA certificate is that we decide where to get parts and how often we change them, while meeting emissions requirements. I like using the Burger King motto: ‘We get to have it our way.’ ”