Lessons from Assembling the World's Largest Battery-Electric Locomotive Freight Fleet Will Benefit Entire Industry

By Maqui Parkerson, AVP Labor Relations & Sustainability

Large Retina | World's Largest Carrier Owned Battery-Electric Locomotive Fleet

Locomotive manufacturers Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company, and Wabtec Corporation will be supplying the battery-electric locomotives used in Union Pacific’s yard operations testing.

Our announced plans to assemble the world’s largest battery electric locomotive freight fleet -- purchasing 20 battery-electric locomotives for testing in yard operations -- is a step toward our company goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. But it’s only one step on a journey that includes the entire transportation sector.

And it’s a big step.

Our purchase represents the largest investment in battery-electric technology by a Class I railroad. It was done in partnership with manufacturers Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company, and Wabtec Corporation – industry innovation leaders. And it will give us the largest freight-dedicated, carrier-owned battery-electric locomotive fleet – standalone railyard work horses that don’t use fuel and emit zero emissions.

The first units arrive in late 2023 with complete delivery by late 2024. They will immediately be put to work in rail yards in California and Nebraska where they will be tested for performance in cold and warm weather. We are eager to learn more about the challenges and capabilities of this promising technology.

The hope is that lessons learned from this test phase will get us closer to technology that could be used reliably for long-haul service. It certainly will help inform the industry about alternative-propulsion methods for over-the-road service, which must be interoperable.

Union Pacific to Assemble World's Largest Carrier-Owned Battery-Electric Locomotive Fleet

President Biden shares the news that Union Pacific plans to purchase 20 battery-electric locomotives for testing in yard operations. The combined purchases and upgrades to yard infrastructure are expected to exceed $100 million, representing the largest investment in battery-electric technology by a U.S. Class I railroad.

As proud as we are to take a lead in developing this technology, we know it’s only one part of a bigger plan necessary for us to reach that net zero goal, which starts with reducing our Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions 26% by the end of this decade. Our plan also includes continuing to make our operations more efficient through a better service plan, implementing technology that helps us reduce the amount of fuel we burn, and a greater use of low-carbon fuels – all of which you can read about in detail in our 2021 Climate Action Plan.

The big picture is that we’re doing what we can to help reduce global warming caused by climate change before it’s too late to contain long-term increases in average temperature. When it comes to transportation, rail is really an elegant part of the solution if you look at our emissions profile, the infrastructure we invest in and the scale at which we operate.

Rail is the most fuel-efficient way to move freight over land, on average 3 to 4 times more fuel efficient than trucks. In fact, moving freight by train instead of truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75%. And we want to maintain and build that advantage.

We know that when it comes to combatting climate change, no one railroad can do it alone. It’s going to require a full-court press by the entire rail industry and the industries we serve. We’re all in this learning phase together, and everything we learn – including lessons from our soon-to-be-acquired battery-electric locomotive fleet – will benefit us all.

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