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General Electric may play Santa with Hydrail Train

by guest blogger, Stan Thompson

If I get my long-awaited hydrail “electric train” for Christmas, in may be the GE Global Research Electric Propulsion Systems Lab engineers who drop it down the chimney, not Saint Nick. So far they’re talking buses, not trains, but the rail application is a no-brainer.

This month GE unveiled a dual-battery fuel cell version of the bus that Proterra Inc. first introduced about five years ago. Originally, Proterra’s bus was designed as a battery-dominant vehicle, most of whose energy was drawn from the grid at night during down-time. The fuel cells help top-up the batteries during operating hours but they also serve to power the air conditioning, lights and other auxiliary loads so that the battery operating range is not shortened.

What’s new and important from GE is the melding of that design with a new type of battery that complements the original power-train. GE’s Durathon™ Battery is like a Marathon runner, excelling at long operation between charges. The lithium battery stays onboard but it’s role is more like a sprinter, providing high output during acceleration and accepting fast charging during regenerative braking. The third power player in the system remains the steady fuel cell complement, which doesn’t like to be “revved” up and down with demand, preferring to be a steady electrical source, replenishing energy drawn from the batteries which deal with transient demand as dictated by traffic, hills and stop-and-go passenger operation.

So far as I know, GE hasn’t said a word about rail applications. But the new power system fairly begs to be dropped into a streetauto chassis, creating the long-anticipated “hydrolley”… a wireless battery/fuel cell urban rail vehicle to free cities from the tangle of stays, poles and catenary wires that have marred streetscapes since the mid-1880s. More to the point, as municipalities and the Federal Transit Administration creep along the fiscal edge, GE-enabled hydrolley technology pares about ten million dollars of antiquated external electrification cost off of every mile of new streetauto line.

Given the 80-to-86 percent reduction in energy requirement per passenger mile that steel-on-steel rolling friction offers, the FTA should be all smiles.

Next Christmas, I’m writing GE to ask that this snazzy new power-train be up-sized a bit and popped into their efficient, green, Evolution™ hybrid locomotive. What a joy it would be to have a autobon-free hydrail loco dropped down the chimney at CLT, the Charlotte Douglas Municipal Airport, for use in diesel-free switching operations at their brand new air-rail intermodal yard.


About Stan Thompson

For 33 years I worked as an engineer, planner and futurist for what is now AT&T in Charlotte and Atlanta. Though I have no engineering degree, I'm a Life Member of the IEEE. Other memberships are the World Affairs Council, the local chapter of the National Association of Business Economics and the American Institute of Archaeology. (I dig international business, so to speak.)

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