Exeter gets on board with ‘world’s cleanest diesel’ trains

Four near-zero emission locomotives replace three polluting diesel engines from 1977 and one from 1964

By Reggie Ellis


EXETER– Exeter is already the orange capital of the world, a gateway community to the largest living things on earth and is now home to the cleanest diesel trains in the world.

On Feb. 28, regional air district officials, national locomotive manufacturers and local elected officials gathered at the headquarters of the San Joaquin Valley Railroad (SJVR) in Exeter to celebrate the replacement of three smog producing diesel engines from 1977 and one from 1964 with four new engines that can boast they are the “world’s cleanest diesel locomotive.” The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District provided the near-zero emission engines to the Exeter-based shortline railroad through a $10.67 million grant funded by Assembly Bill 134 and California Climate Investments (CCI). CCI is a state-wide initiative that puts cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment, with a focus on disadvantaged communities. For more information on California Climate Investments, visit www.caclimateinvestments.ca.gov. SJVR put in $500,000 of its funding to round out the project.

“This is a great example of a public-private partnership that benefits our local communities and businesses by allowing them to upgrade to the best technology, as well as reducing emissions,” stated Kuyler Crocker, Tulare County Supervisor and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Governing Board Member. “This will not only improve the air quality in Exeter but also in the communities of Fresno, Bakersfield, Goshen, Huron, Lemoore, Buttonwillow and many others in between.”

Crocker said the investment by the air district was highly targeted because there are not a lot of incentives for railroads to replace their old, inefficient diesel engines. The engines will improve air quality and public health by collectively reducing a total of 317.46 tons of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Particulate Matter (PM) and Reactive Organic Gases (ROG) over the life of the project, with a cost effectiveness of $24,644 per ton.

The engines were built by Knoxville Locomotive Works (KLW), which specializes in building the cleanest trains in the United States. The company was established in 1998 as a railroad but soon after began selling its shortline railroads to focus on repairs and rebuilds for other companies. In 2007, KLW began manufacturing its own locomotives and in 2008 began its pursuit of a greener engine. Wurtz said his company started with an MTU Series 2000 and Series 4000 engines, the cleanest burning engine on the market at that time, and then worked to further reduce emissions output through efficiency gains in the locomotive electronic control package, engine software tweaking and advanced aftertreatment designs and catalysts to treat the exhaust stream as it leaves the engine.

KLW President Jim Wurtz traveled all the way from Tennessee to celebrate the innovative achievement. “Building a near-zero emission locomotive without the assistance of battery propulsion is quite an accomplishment,” Wurtz said.

Wurtz said KLW essentially stripped the original locomotive down to the chassis and replaced it with advanced electrical and mechanical systems, including an automatic engine start stop (AESS) feature which eliminates unnecessary locomotive idling. That resulted in a new locomotive with 40-50% more pulling power and an engine that uses a minimum of 15-20% less diesel fuel. The engine is still fueled by ultra-low sulfur diesel but reduces hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by 99% compared to previous unregulated locomotives. KLW’s Series 2000 and 4000 locomotive models are 93% cleaner than EPA’s Tier 4 locomotive emission standards and are 82%-86% cleaner in total emissions than Tier 5, the most stringent level of locomotive emissions standards that won’t be fully implemented until 2025. After the engine burns the diesel, the exhaust is then sent through a catalytic converter, a larger version of what is found on gasoline-fueled cars. Prior to leaving the engine, the diesel is then sent through a selective catalytic reduction reactor, where a chemical mixture called diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) is injected, causing a reaction that nullifies nearly all of the pollutants in the exhaust, primarily leaving nitrogen, oxygen and water vapor.

“When we started this Project there were a lot of naysayers and doubters that we could even do this,” Wurtz said. “What this shows is that with vision, clearly communicated goals and objectives, the right Team and a passion for excellence, what can be accomplished is a lot more than what at first seemed to be an impossibility.”

KLW offers 28 different EPA certified and CARB verified near-zero emission (NZE) locomotives operating in 12 states. The KLW NZE locomotive product line consists of the cleanest diesel locomotives in the World.

SJVR Manager Joe Evans said the four new engines are in addition to four others that were replaced through the Air District a few years ago, giving the railroad eight engines that meet Tier 4 standards. SJVR provides ‘first and last mile’ of freight meaning it links large, national railroads to local customers. The shortline hauler currently uses 23 locomotives on 700 miles of track between Fresno and Bakersfield. Evans said shortline railroads operate on much smaller margins than the national railroads which qualify for a variety of federal funding.

“We don’t have the funding on our own to replace these engines,” Evans said. “Without this funding, we would have replaced any engines that stopped working with other Tier 0 engines and make them last as long as we can.”

The company is based out of its office on Filbert Street in Exeter where it does major repairs and quarterly inspections of the locomotives. In addition to reducing emissions, Evans said the KLW engines can also haul more weight. In the past, SJVR has used three engines to move orders up to 100 cars long. He said coordinating that many engines usually involves sending drivers down to Bakersfield or Fresno and then waiting for them to bring an engine back to Exeter before going to pick up the order in Fresno or Bakersfield. With the new engines, SJVR will only need two locomotives to haul 100-car orders.

“It’s easier on manpower, easier to find enough trains and better for the environment,” Evans said. “Just the savings in labor alone will make a huge difference.”

For more information on the Valley Air District’s Locomotive Program, visit: valleyair.org/grants/locomotive.htm.

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