BNSF Implements Technologies That Enhance Fuel-Efficient Train Operations

Feb 27, 2014 4:00 PM ET

Rail is the most fuel- and cost-efficient means for moving freight over land, and BNSF Railway is continuing to enhance that performance. Two key BNSF initiatives include energy management systems that maximize locomotive efficiency and a Fuel MVP program that rewards locomotive engineers for exceptional efficiency in train handling.

Transportation by rail provides tremendous benefits by reducing our country's overall transportation emissions, carbon footprint and highway congestion. Trains move a ton of freight almost 500 miles on one gallon of fuel, which is more than three times as far as trucks. This efficiency reduces carbon dioxide emissions by over two-thirds when compared to trucks on a ton mile basis. And, it means that rail, which carries more than 40 percent of our nation’s freight by volume, only accounts for 2.2 percent of all transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions according to Environmental Protection Agency data.

Throttle and brake use have a significant impact on a train’s fuel efficiency. A recent technology advancement, the locomotive energy management system, is designed to maximize fuel efficiency and train handling by optimizing throttle and brake use. The system includes software that considers train makeup (weight/length/horsepower), track geometry (grade/curvature) and speed restrictions to determine the most fuel efficient way to operate the train across its territory keeping train handling techniques at the forefront.

The latest generation of energy management software will actually operate the train, similar to a cruise control feature on an automobile. The engineer is still responsible at all times for the safe operation of the train and is able to take over control of the locomotive at any time. But with the energy management system controlling the throttle and dynamic brake automatically, the engineer is able to focus on the other requirements of operating a train. Fuel savings of up to 10 percent are possible depending on the territory and train makeup over those locomotives that don’t have this technology installed.

Approximately one-third of BNSF’s locomotives have been configured with this latest energy management system software. In the future, energy management will be integrated with Positive Train Control (PTC). Once integrated, the software will be able to utilize PTC’s knowledge of signal aspects to maintain control of the train under a wider variety of operating conditions.

Even with the technological advancements in energy management systems, engineers’ train handling techniques still have tremendous impact on fuel consumption. In 2007 BNSF introduced the Fuel MVP program to encourage its engineers to handle trains in the most fuel efficient manner possible. A wireless download of the locomotive event recorder captures information such as speed, time, distance, throttle position, dynamic brake and independent brake.

Each month, every participating engineer’s data is analyzed and compared with a set of fuel efficiency benchmarks. Engineers who rank in the top 10 percent of their operating division for fuel efficiency receive a $100 fuel card for personal use. Those ranking in the next 10 percent within their division receive a $50 fuel card.

“The Fuel MVP program helps to set a standard for our locomotive engineers,” said BNSF General Director, Fuel Efficiency Matt Feldman. “It invokes a level of friendly competition and individual reward that benefits everyone. BNSF uses less fuel and the engineers get money for their own gas.”

For more information on BNSF’s green technology efforts click here.