Initial results with General Electric's low-emission diesel locomotive have confirmed the company's projections on performance, emissions and availability

Steve Gray,
General Manager of Engineering, GE Transportation Systems

SEPTEMBER 28 saw the delivery of the first seven of 30 Evolution Series diesel locomotives to Burlington Northern Santa Fe for extended testing. These pre-production units built at the General Electric Transportation Systems plant in Erie will enable us to gather extensive data about the performance of the design before series production gets underway next year.

There are currently 13000 GE-built diesel locos in operation around the world, of which half are maintained by the company under service contracts. The Evolution Series, launched on December 23 last year (RG 2.03 p75), is designed to meet tighter US Environmental Protection Agency standards which come into force from 2005.

GE has invested more than $200m in research and development for the Evolution Series over the past six years. This process brought together a wide mix of customers, scientists and engineers from across the world. The result is an 'evolutionary' platform, which incorporates the best of existing, proven locomotive engineering with advanced technologies that so far have yielded 25 US patents, with 13 more pending, and 18 invention disclosures.

The Evolution Series is the first freight locomotive in active revenue service to comply with EPA's Tier II emissions standards. It is powered by the new GEVO 12-cylinder engine, which produces the same 4400hp as the 16-cylinder engine used in GE's current AC4400 Series locos. The GEVO cuts exhaust gas and particulate emissions by more than 40% and reduces fuel consumption by around 3%. The Evolution Series will be offered as a full range with both AC and DC traction drives.

Initial testing has confirmed the projected improvements in fuel efficiency, extended maintenance intervals and increased reliability, which will all help to lower the life-cycle cost. Serviceability is also enhanced by the simplified engine design incorporating fewer parts. The platform is also expandable to accept demands for higher horsepower, further fuel efficiency and stricter emissions compliance in the future.

GE's Vice-President for Corporate Environmental Programs, Stephen D Ramsey, described the Evolution Series as 'the world's cleanest locomotive'. Whereas it would have been possible to 'get by' the Tier II standards by retrofitting an existing design, he believes the company has set a new standard by creating 'the most technologically-advanced, most fuel-efficient, most environmentally-friendly diesel locomotive ever to put power to the rails.'

Rigorous conditions

We wanted to put the new locomotives through the toughest testing grounds we could find. Earlier this year, we sent five pre-production locos for field testing on Union Pacific routes in the Pacific Northwest. In their first six months, these five locos covered more than 240000 km in revenue service. Two locos delivered on June 5 also underwent a series of high-altitude emissions, fuel and tunnel tests.

The UP units are being tested in the Blue Mountain and Cascade regions of the Pacific Northwest, in an area bordered by Seattle, Salt Lake City and Roseville, California. This also takes them over the fabled Donner Pass route, which includes the 3·2 km long Norden Tunnel, which lies at an altitude of 2133m. Further east, Sherman Hill in Wyoming includes a 32 km climb from 120 to 1370m above sea level, with gradients of 2% and 2·5%.

This environment offers many challenges for the locomotives - high altitudes, steep gradients, and ambient temperatures ranging from -20íC to +40íC. Equipped as standard for distributed power operation, the locos are being used on heavy-haul mineral drags, with two pairs handling trains of up to 15000 tonnes. They have also operated fast intermodal services at speeds of 112 km/h.

Test results have confirmed that the Evolution Series locos have a smooth and rapid acceleration, and strong overall performance. Union Pacific's Program Manager Dave Wright described the low vibration and cab noise levels as 'impressive', noting that he was able to use his mobile phone in speaker mode in the cab with the loco running at full power.

Availability and reliability have been consistent with UP's existing AC4400s, and the utilisation has been comparable. Feedback from the crews has been overwhelmingly positive from the perspectives of ride quality, noise and vibration.

The 30 additional pre-production units being tested by BNSF will operate in a very similar environment. They will initially be deployed on heavy grain and intermodal trains between Chicago and Seattle and between Seattle and Havre, Montana. They will endure many of the same environmental extremes as the UP locomotives, but with more snow.

We have already learned a great deal about how the Evolution Series performs in a demanding environment. Testing will continue through the rest of 2003 and 2004, with the BNSF units helping to accumulate operating hours so that we can ensure product reliability.

In the first half of 2004, we plan to deliver 15 locomotives with DC motors for field testing. This will provide further experience with the platform as a whole, and enable us to validate the elements specific to the DC variants. By the time that series production gets underway, the company will have accumulated the equivalent of more than 50 locomotive-years' experience of field operation.

In addition, further aggressive testing will continue at Erie, using the AC and DC prototype locomotives (2005 and 2011), two testbed units without cabs, and a series of development engines.

According to GE Transportation Systems President & CEO Charlene Begley, 'we wanted to not only meet the new EPA standards, but exceed them ... the Evolution Series gives our customers a locomotive that will evolve and serve them well over the next two decades.'

Evolution Series data

Wheel arrangement Co-Co
Length mm 22860
Width mm 4572
Weight tonnes 185·3
Maximum speed km/h 120
Engine rating kW 3280
Continuous tractive effort kN 645
Brake force kN 435