Story at a glance

  • Pittsburgh company Wabtec released its new battery powered train designed for mining needs.
  • Australian company Roy Hill purchased it for use in its mining operations.
  • Environmental activists have decried the coal industry as unsustainable.

A Pittsburgh company unveiled the first model of a battery-powered train that runs only on a battery charge.

Created by the Pennsylvania-based company Wabtec, the locomotive was purchased by Australian mining company Roy Hill. The train, an FLXdrive model, is specifically tailored for mining operations. It is outfitted with a charge capacity of seven megawatt hours. 

Trains historically run on burning coal to boil water and run on the steam . The coal used to generate the steam engine itself is a heavy carbon emitter. A new electric engine would cut emission levels from this sector.

“We are committed to transforming the next generation of transportation by adopting advanced technologies that improve energy efficiency, lower operating costs and improve our rail and mining network,” said Gerhard Veldsman, the CEO of Roy Hill. “The FLXdrive locomotive will be the first for the region and the first for the mining industry and will improve our rail operations from the mine to Port Hedland.”

Analyses from Roy Hill confirm that the train can still pull loaded wagons with nearly 35,000 tonnes of iron, implying performance isn’t compromised by its sustainable platform. 

“This order demonstrates Roy Hill’s progressive and forward-thinking approach to the mining industry,” said Wendy McMillan, Regional Senior Vice President Australia and New Zealand for Wabtec.

Wabtec will continue to pour resources into developing zero-emissions locomotive engines. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that transportation accounts for about 29 percent of all emissions and electricity production accounts for 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Within this category, 62 percent of U.S. household electricity comes from burning fossil fuels including coal. 

Environmental advocates have long called for the outright shutdown of the coal industry given its high carbon emissions levels. 

Wabtec officials say that their train helps cut some of those emissions stemming from the coal and mining industry, specifically by about 11 percent. 

“We could cut 120 million tons of CO2 per year—and for perspective that’s about 2% of total emissions in the United States,” said Rafael Santana, the president and CEO of Wabtec, to local outlets.



Note: This story was updated Sept.17 12:02 ET for accuracy. 


Published on Sep 16, 2021