Naturally, it's painted green - along with standard Norfolk Southern Railway black.
It's the only all-electric, plug-in locomotive in the world, and workers at the Juniata Locomotive Shop in Altoona built it.
Norfolk Southern introduced the new engine at a news conference Monday featuring a slew of shop workers and dignitaries, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec)
Norfolk Southern unveils its prototype battery-powered locomotive Monday at its Juniata Locomotive Shop. U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, earmarked $1.3 million for the $4 million project.
"This is the new direction," said LaHood, who accepted an invitation to attend the event from U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, who earmarked $1.3 million for the $4 million project. "Norfolk Southern stands out as a leader in greener, cleaner rail."
Shuster, R-9th District, and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., initiated the project two years ago, bringing Norfolk Southern together with the U.S. Department of Energy and Penn State University, which supplied critical help with managing the batteries, said Mark Manion, Norfolk's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
No. 999 is a switcher, powered by 1,080 12-volt batteries, which fully charged can operate the engine for three shifts.
The locomotive emits no pollution, unless you count what's emitted by power plants generating the electricity to recharge the batteries - and that's much less than what's thrown off by standard diesel-electric locomotives, said Bonne Posma, CEO of Saminco, a partner in the project.
The average diesel locomotive emits more than 40 tons of pollutants a year, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, citing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
Norfolk Southern expects to build an over-the-road version with more batteries by 2011, said Gerhard Thelen, vice president for operations planning and support.
That locomotive would run coupled at first with regular diesels, which could help recharge its batteries - though eventually, battery engines could power a train by themselves, he predicted.
The battery project won't necessary mean more jobs at the Juniata shops with 900 workers in the near future, but it helps secure their place in the Norfolk Southern system, Shuster said. They require about the same manpower to build as a diesel, but are cheaper to maintain.
Norfolk Southern named the engine 999, echoing the signature highway project of Shuster's father Bud, Interstate 99.
Like his father, Bill is unapologetic about earmarks.
"This is a good thing," Bill said. "Your tax money coming home, doing positive [projects] for the community and for America."
Eventually, the manufacture and operation of all-battery engines should outgrow the need for subsidies, Shuster said.
Dr. Chao-Yang Wang, director of Penn State's Electrochemical Engine Center, helped set up the battery management protocol, which takes account of temperature, amperage and proper recharge speed to prevent damaging "sulfation" of plates in the lead-acid batteries, Thelen said.
The company partnered with a retired Norfolk Southern employee from Roanoke Va., and a consulting firm for electrical design, central Pennsylvania's Brookville Equipment for regeneration locomotive technology, two of its partner companies and three firms that shared hybrid vehicle experience.
"We couldn't have done this for ourselves," Thelen said.
Other railroad companies have developed hybrid and electrochemical engines, but not plug-ins of freight-train size, Thelen said.
"This is the wave of the future," LaHood said. "The old days are gone."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.