A DREAM Come True: Union Pacific Employee Designs Sustainable Trailers

Large Retina | Inside Track: Dream Trailer side view - main image

The DREAM trailer uses solar panels instead of a generator to power equipment for the crews in the field.

A Union Pacific track renewal manager may be helping the railroad expand its use of renewable energy.

When Shane Karstens, manager-Track Programs, Engineering, encountered a problem in the field, what started as a simple solution could now be laying new tracks to aid Union Pacific’s commitment to build a sustainable future.

It started one night in Iowa during 2019, when someone burglarized a mobile office trailer. The thief stole the trailer’s 7,000-watt generator powering air-conditioning, heat, laptops, printers and other necessities for crews in the field.

“I could spend $5,000 for a new generator or install solar panels for around the same price,” Karstens said. “Choosing solar panels meant we'd never have to pay for gas or oil changes, or listen to the noise of a generator running.”

“After talking it over with my director, it seemed like a no-brainer to go with solar. We ended up with an office that is fully self-sustaining, mobile and environmentally responsible.”

The trailer was a hit. It wasn’t long before Karstens added another solar-powered trailer for the group with help from Engineering’s James Osberg and Nick Turnmire.

Karstens and his teammates believe he may have perfected his design with the group’s third solar-powered trailer, what they call the “DREAM trailer.” It uses bigger batteries, allowing the trailer to stay lightweight for mobility.

Karstens said when you step into the DREAM trailer, it makes an impression.

Large | Inside Track: Dream Trailer - rear view

Karstens’ DREAM trailer design uses bigger batteries, allowing the trailer to stay lightweight for mobility.

“I have been approached by several team members asking for advice and help setting up their trailers so they can also break away from generators and lessen our carbon footprint,” he said.

Karstens wanted to see more company trailers benefit from green energy. He was soon in touch with Drew Bokenkamp, general director-Track Programs, Engineering, who incidentally was already reassessing plans for Track Program’s trailer fleet.

Bokenkamp said Karstens’ research and ingenuity are exactly what he would expect from a member of Union Pacific’s Engineering team.

“We challenge our employees to think outside the box,” Bokenkamp said. “When we implement something new, it’s usually from our people on the ground. These seem to be the best ideas. I’m always proud of the team members who take things on like that. Karstens is a perfect example.”

Bokenkamp’s team is several months away from finalizing plans for the trailer fleet, but adds Karstens’ renewable designs will likely be part of the results.

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