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US loco market still a two-horse race

01 Jul 2006

As the domestic market booms, North American locomotive builders Electro-Motive Diesel and General Electric are striving to meet their customers' demands for ever-higher availability and reliability with a relatively narrow range of rugged, standardised products. David Lustig reports

TODAY's utilitarian motive power may be a far cry from the distinctive styling of those fleets which banished steam from the railroads of the USA in the 1950s, but there is no doubting the heritage of EMD and GE Transportation whose roots go back to the dawn of the diesel age in North America.

Having competed directly with EMD for domestic business since 1959, GE overtook its competitor in 1987 when EMD failed to build on the success of its SD40-2 and GP40-2 models. A critical factor was that GE continued to invest in its locomotive business, while car-maker General Motors did not treat its EMD subsidiary with the same favour.

Following GM's decision to focus on its 'core technologies', EMD was put up for sale on several occasions over the last 10 years. Interested buyers approached with some trepidation, having not only to determine what was left of the domestic and international markets but also to negotiate with the unions representing the 2600 employees - divided between EMD's design and management office at La Grange outside Chicago and its production facility in the Canadian city of London, Ontario.

In April 2005 EMD was acquired by Greenbriar Equity Group, Berkshire Partners and other parties for an undisclosed sum (RG 5.05 p286). As well as the North American and international locomotive businesses, the transaction included power, marine and industrial products, the spare parts business and EMD's locomotive maintenance contracts around the world. Retaining the renowned EMD brand, the company was renamed as Electro-Motive Diesel Inc.

The acquisition was certainly timely, as locomotive deliveries in North America have been riding a rising wave of demand. Traffic rose throughout the 1990s, led by ever-growing demand for low-sulphur coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin and increasing shipments of imported merchandise arriving from China at the West Coast ports.

As the price of fuel has increased since 2001 and recent changes to retirement law have led to a reduction in the number of operating personnel, railroads are looking to capitalise on the higher power and improved fuel-efficiency of today's locomotive models by replacing older units on a three-for-two basis.

From a low point in 1992, when fewer than 400 locomotives were built for North American railroads, production has boomed despite the occasional fluctuation. Domestic deliveries over the past five years have ranged between 675 and 1150 units a year.

Standard locos, new requirements

Compared to previous decades, both EMD and GE are currently offering a limited product range. Their customers continue to demand maximum standardisation and high availability, which must be met while conforming to the tougher Tier II emissions standards established by the US Environmental Protection Agency which came into effect on January 1 2005.

GE has staked its future on the Evolution Series, which according to the manufacturer is the fruit of six years of development costing over US$200m. The first five prototype units were rolled out in 2003 (RG 2.03 p75). By the end of 2005 GE had delivered more than 400 ES44AC locos with AC drives to three railroads, and more than 300 ES44DCs with DC drives to four railroads. There was also a small build of 165 ES40DCs for Norfolk Southern with a 4000hp rating. In terms of market share, GE outsold EMD by about three to one in the US market during 2005.

The heart of the Evolution Series is the new 12-cylinder GEVO engine, which at 4400hp has the same rating as the 16-cylinder engine which powered GE's AC4400 series. Due to its hybrid cooling system the GEVO engine has lower emissions. GE says that development of the Evolution Series has seen it obtain 25 new US patents, with 13 patents pending and 18 invention disclosures.

Current GE customers include six of North America's largest railroads: Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

Like GE, EMD is offering a basic locomotive type with either AC or DC drive. But in contrast to its competitor, EMD has adapted its existing 710 engine to meet the new emissions standards. It is currently offering the AC-motored SD70ACE and the equivalent SD70M-2 with a DC drive. Both types are rated at 4300hp, powered by EMD's 16-710G3C-T2 engine. They are building on the strong reputation established by the SD70 and SD70MAC models, which were rated at 4000hp each.

CSX took delivery of the initial pre-production order of 20 SD70ACEs in 2004, and by early 2006 nearly 200 units had been delivered, along with 72 SD70M-2s delivered in 2005. UP, CN and NS have also been customers for the two models, as well as regional carriers Montana Rail Link, Kansas City Southern and Florida East Coast.

For both railroad and manufacturer, optimum performance is afforded by using locomotives of the same type in multiple. Among many of the largest US railroads, common practice is to assign AC traction to heavy bulk coal or grain trains, and DC traction to faster intermodal services and general freight. In practice, trains carrying general merchandise are often dispatched with whatever motive power is at hand, but the bigger railroads do attempt to deploy specific models on specific traffic flows.

Many railroads have restricted their locomotive purchases to one model or family of models that are favoured for specific applications. BNSF's 300 ES44DCs mix freely with the railroad's fleet of about 1800 GE Dash 9-44CWs on intermodal services on the old Santa Fe main line between southern California and Chicago, which is a primary corridor for import traffic from China. Meanwhile, EMD's SD70MACs continue to dominate BNSF's intensive coal traffic from the Powder River Basin (RG 10.05 p606).

UP has also has been buying from both builders, but has been leaning a little more towards EMD. UP's order for 1000 SD70Ms placed in 1999 was the largest single locomotive order in North America, and the railroad has bought around three-quarters of all the 2000 SD70Ms built since the DC-motored model was introduced in 1994. More recently, UP has placed orders for both the EMD SD70ACE and GE's ES44AC by the hundreds.

Most major railroads confirm that they like their new GEs and EMDs from both the performance and maintenance perspectives. Unlike earlier years, where EMD locos were usually preferred for their riding and pulling qualities, many experienced operating crews are reported to endorse the performance of the newer GE designs when handling heavy trains over a roller-coaster route.

Is bigger better?

Every 20 years or so, US builders explore the market for a locomotive which squeezes the maximum amount of horsepower into a single unit. And they often find that this can cause major headaches as proven technology is left behind or stretched too far. Stepping up from 4400hp to 6000hp per unit is the most recent example of this trend.

The latest horsepower race was launched in the early 1990s when Morrison-Knudsen announced that it was to develop a 5000hp unit with a Caterpillar engine to compete with EMD and GE. MK was planning to produce even more powerful units once it had established a foothold in the locomotive business, but its six prototype locos generated no orders after two years of testing. All six were eventually rebuilt and now operate on the coal-hauling Utah Railway.

Despite its lack of success in the freight market, MK's locomotive activity was subsequently acquired by Wabtec. Now known as MotivePower Inc, the Boise plant produces the successful MP36 line of commuter locomotives.

GE responded to the MK challenge with the 6000hp AC6000CW in 1995. The same year saw EMD introduce its 5000hp SD80MAC, followed by the 6000hp SD90MAC. The SD80MAC was powered by a 20-cylinder version of the 710 engine, EMD being confident that this model would prove more successful than the 20-cylinder version of its 645 engine used to upgrade from the SD40 to the SD45 in the 1970s. However, only 27 SD80MACs were built, all of which went to Conrail; the fleet was later divided between CSX and NS.

To produce 6000hp, EMD introduced a new engine design, the 16-cylinder 265H. The company had quietly been designing a four-stroke engine to succeed its two-stroke 710 design, and felt the SD90 series would be the perfect platform.

Early teething troubles with the 265H saw the first units off the production line delivered as 'convertible' SD9043MACs, powered by 4300hp 710 engines, which were intended to be replaced by 265Hs at a later date. UP, CP and leasing company CEFX purchased the convertible units, but none was ever re-powered. Only UP and CP operated 265H-equipped SD90MACs, also known as SD90MAC-Hs, and UP's fleet of 62 units was quietly returned to the builder when they came off-lease.

GE had slightly better luck with its AC6000CW, selling 207 between 1995 and 2000 and another 107 convertible units powered by a 4400hp FDL-16 engine. Both UP and CSX have acquired sizable fleets which have been moderately successful. GE still offers the AC6000, whereas the SD90MAC has vanished from the EMD catalogue.

Comparing the all-new four-stroke 265H engine with the popular 710 which evolved from EMD's proven 645 design is perhaps unfair. Although the 265H is still suffering from teething troubles, EMD engineers feel that it is a fundamentally good design. The marine version is finding success, and Dalian Locomotive Works is to build 300 locos powered by this engine for China (RG 3.06 p150).

But in the domestic market the 265H has been overshadowed by the 710. North American railroads tend to favour a 'building block' approach to traction, achieving higher tractive effort as well as higher horsepower by using locomotives in multiple. For most operations, a six-axle loco rated at between 4000hp and 4500hp is the ideal size.

Emissions drive development

Future US loco development will be dictated to some extent by the next round of emissions regulations, with the Tier III requirements currently expected to come into force in 2011. EMD maintains that the 265H engine can be brought up to Tier II emissions standards if further orders are forthcoming, and says the Chinese units will be compliant. In an attempt to match the fuel efficiency of GE's GEVO line, EMD has also developed a 12-cylinder version of the 265H. This has been tested on the road, in a prototype known unofficially as the SD89MAC, but to little effect.

The EMD sale process is likely to have been a distraction for staff and management alike. Nevertheless the engineering team has continued to work on refining the Intellitrain electronic loco management system and related health monitoring systems.

At the same time, GE has pushed to stay in front, and is looking aggressively towards the future. On the horizon is a hybrid unit for main line duties that will be able to store energy produced by regenerative braking in batteries, which according to GE will be tapped on demand to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 15% compared with its current 12-cylinder engine design.

But in the search for greater fuel efficiency while meeting the more stringent emissions standards of the future, innovation has not been limited to main line applications. Canadian manufacturer RailPower Technologies is vigorously marketing to customers across North America its hybrid Green Goat shunting locomotive which uses small diesel generator sets to continuously trickle-charge lead acid batteries.

In addition, both RailPower and National Railway Equipment Co of Dixmoor, Illinois, are marketing 'genset' road switchers for main line duties. Between them, the Schenectady-built RP20BD rated at 2100hp and the 2000hp GS14B from NREC have generated more than 160 orders to date. Both designs are powered by three small engines, and are programmed to start up and shut down one or two engines automatically when their power is not needed, reducing both emissions and fuel consumption.

 

Le marché des locomotives aux Etats-Unis toujours une course à deux candidats

Tandis que le marché intérieur explose, les constructeurs de locomotives Electro-Motive Diesel et General Electric se démènent pour satisfaire la demande de leurs clients soucieux d'une disponibilité et d'une fiablilité toujours plus grande avec une chaîne étroite de produits robustes et standardisés. Selon David Lustig, la série Evolution de GE représente maintenant les trois quarts des commandes aux Etats-Unis et le moteur 710 d'EMD qui a fait ses preuves est toujours préféré au modèle 265H de 6000ch. Des normes serrées d'émission de gaz commencent à influencer les développements futurs: réglages avancés, stockage d'énergie hybride et procédés de traitement de l'échappement. Pendant ce temps, deux constructeurs spécialisés mettent au point des concepts de petites locomotives de manoeuvre plus radicaux

US Lokomotivmarkt immer noch ein 2-Pferde-Rennen

Mit einem boomenden Inlandmarkt arbeiten die Lokomotivbauer Electro-Motive Diesel und General Electric hart daran, um die Forderungen der Kunden nach immer h?€?herer Verfügbarkeit zu erfüllen. Dies geschieht mit einer relativ kleinen Auswahl von stabilen standardisierten Produkten. David Lustig stellt fest, dass GE's Evolution Series nun rund drei Viertel aller Lokomotiv-Bestellungen in den USA umfasst, und dass der bewährte EMD 710-Motor immer noch der Wunschantrieb für die 6000hp starke 265H-Type ist. Strengere Abgasvorschriften haben ihren Einfluss auf zukünftige Entwicklungen, einschliesslich verbesserter Steuerung, Hybrid-Energiespeicherung und Abgasbehandlungssysteme. In der Zwischenzeit entwickeln Nischenhersteller radikalere Konstruktionen für kleinere Maschinen für den Rangierdienst

El mercado estadounidense de las locomotoras sigue siendo una lucha a dos bandas

Mientras el mercado doméstico vive un pleno auge, los fabricantes de locomotoras Electro-Motive Diesel y General Electric se esfuerzan por satisfacer las exigencias de sus clientes para conseguir una oferta y fiabilidad aún mayores con una relativa estrecha gama de productos resistentes y estandarizados. David Lustig opina que los modelos Evolution Series de General Electric acaparan en estos momentos tres cuartas partes de los pedidos de locomotoras en los Estados Unidos y que el eficiente motor 710 de Electro-Motive Diesel todavía tiene m? s seguidores que el modelo 265H de 6000CV. Los apretados est? ndares de emisiones est? n empezando a influir en los proyectos futuros, incluidos los controles avanzados, la acumulación de energía híbrida y los sistemas de tratamiento de escape. Mientras tanto, los fabricantes especializados est? n desarrollando diseños m? s innovadores de locomotoras de menor tamaño para maniobras

  • CAPTION: In May GE delivered its 1 000th Evolution Series loco to BNSF, which has ordered 750 of the units. A pair of ES44ACs head a westbound container train on CSX tracks at Fairport, New York
  • CAPTION: EMD's principal Tier-II compliant diesel loco is the SD70ACE variant of its popular SD70M series, which was first ordered by CSX Photos: Michael A Martin
  • CAPTION: Going nowhere? Neither EMD's SD9043MAC nor GE's AC6000CW proved popular with the Class I railroads. A CEFX 'convertible' and UP AC60 head a westbound freight along the Columbia River in Oregon Photo: Scott A Harley
  • CAPTION: Being built at Schenectady, RailPower's RP series road switchers have three 500 kW diesel engines or two engines and a battery pack. The ability to stop and start each engine as required promises fuel savings of between 20% and 35%, according to the firm