How Do Diesel Electric Trains Work?

Pistons attached to an electric generator are pushed by the ignition of diesel fuel. The produced electricity powers the locomotive’s motors, which are attached to the locomotive’s wheels. The heat generated by the compression of air during the upward cycles of the stroke is used to ignite the fuel in a “diesel” internal combustion engine. This sort of engine was created by Dr. Rudolph Diesel, the creator. In 1892, it was granted a patent.

  • An electric fuel pump delivers diesel fuel to the engine, which is kept in a fuel tank. Because of its lower volatility, lower cost, and widespread availability, diesel fuel has become the favored fuel for railroad locomotives.
  • The diesel engine (A) is the locomotive’s most important component. It’s an internal combustion engine with many cylinders linked to a shared crankshaft. The tremendous compression ignites the fuel, driving the piston down. A crankshaft is turned by the piston’s action.
  • The primary generator (B), which converts the engine’s mechanical power to electrical power, is attached to the diesel engine. The electricity is subsequently distributed to traction motors (C) via various switchgear components’ circuits.
  • The output of the main generator is regulated by the excitation field current to its windings since it is always turning, regardless of whether the locomotive is moving or not.
  • The locomotive’s power output is controlled via an electrically operated throttle by the engineer. More fuel is fed into the engine’s cylinders when it is opened, increasing mechanical power production. The electrical output of the main generator grows as the excitation of the generator increases.
  • Each traction motor (C) is connected to a pair of driving wheels directly. Using electricity as the locomotive’s “transmission” is significantly more reliable than relying on a mechanical transmission and clutch. Starting a big train from a stop would quickly burn out the clutch.

Why do trains use diesel electric engines?

Switchers (or shunters), locomotives used for moving trains around in railroad yards and building and disassembling them, were the first to utilise diesel–electric technology in the 1920s. The American Locomotive Company was one of the first companies to offer “Oil-Electric” locomotives (ALCO). In 1931, the ALCO HH series of diesel–electric switchers went into production. The system was modified in the 1930s to accommodate streamliners, the fastest trains of the day. Diesel–electric powerplants were popular because they substantially simplified the transmission of motive power to the wheels, as well as being more efficient and requiring less maintenance. When a locomotive has four or more axles, direct-drive transmissions can become quite complicated. A direct-drive diesel locomotive would also necessitate an excessive number of gears to keep the engine within its powerband; connecting the diesel to a generator solves this problem. In a direct drive system, a torque converter or fluid coupling can be used to replace the gearbox. Hydraulic transmissions are said to be more efficient than diesel-electric transmissions.

How efficient are diesel electric trains?

A group of progressive activists and railroad business specialists has proposed that the federal and state governments, in collaboration with the railroad industry, participate in a long-term initiative to electrify US railroads. They detail a plan to update freight and passenger railways with overhead wires to carry high-voltage electricity generated in towns along the lines, and replace diesel locomotives with electric engines in a book published in October 2016, Solutionary Rail, a people-powered campaign to electrify America’s railroads to a clean energy future. These cables would also help supply electricity generated by distributed renewable energy sources by creating a new, nationwide electrical transmission system. The book lists various advantages of an electrified railway system over the current system in the United States, but industry and government analysts are pessimistic that the proposal will be implemented.

One thing that all analysts agree on is that long-haul transportation by train is more efficient than by truck. Steel rolling on steel is far more efficient in terms of energy transfer than rubber rolling on concrete, creating just approximately one-fifth of the friction. Trains are also more aerodynamically efficient than lorries. Overall, railways transport freight 1.9 to 5.5 times more effectively than trucks, with substantially lower overall labor costs and far less pollution. Truckers could also benefit from a change to rail for long-haul freight because they could focus on the last miles of the voyage and work more normal hours. A cleaner, more robust railroad system may replace a significant percentage of truck traffic, while also improving the reliability and competitiveness of intercity passenger service compared to highways and airlines.

Electric Trains vs. Diesel Trains

Trains are more efficient than trucks, but not all trains are created equal. Diesel trains send roughly 30% to 35% of the energy generated by combustion to the wheels, whereas delivering electricity straight from an overhead powerline delivers about 95% of the energy to the wheels. According to the authors of Solutionary Rail: Electric Trains, there are several further advantages of using electricity rather than diesel to power trains.

  • While diesel fuel prices are now low, many analysts believe that the long-term trend will be for them to rise. Electricity prices, on the other hand, are lowering as the usage of renewable energy sources expands. Even at present pricing, using the energy conversion rates mentioned above, it is predicted that running a train on electricity is 50% less expensive than running one on fuel.
  • On the global market, electric locomotive engines cost around 20% less than diesel locomotive engines, and maintenance expenses are 25-35 percent lower than diesel engines.
  • Diesel locomotives would be phased out, reducing air pollution such as soot, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides, all of which are harmful to human health and the environment. This is particularly essential because many railroads run through cities. It would help minimize city noise levels and highway fatalities caused by trucks (rail freight causes only about one-eighth as many fatalities as truck freight per ton-mile).
  • Switching from diesel to electricity would also help with the problem of replacing petroleum-based liquid transportation fuels with greener alternatives as part of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Solutionary Rail not only asks for the electrification of railroads, but also for the use of renewable energy sources to power the new electric railroad system. Renewable energy sources might be connected across the country if transmission lines are installed with enough capacity, producing a nationwide electric power grid that also supplies all of our railway energy demands. Railway electrification would not only provide a new market for renewable energy, but it would also offer it access to a variety of other sectors. The variable production of electricity by wind turbines and photovoltaic solar panels would be offset by the large range of sources (the country isn’t always gloomy or windless).

Why Didn’t U.S. Railroads Go Electric?

Why aren’t electric locomotives more widely used in the United States since they have so many advantages over diesel locomotives? During much of the twentieth century, railroads in the United States were the world leaders in innovation and the use of cutting-edge technology. They have now fallen behind many other sophisticated nations, which have been investing in electric-powered trains for many years. Steam locomotives were replaced by more efficient electric locomotives and diesel-electric (often referred to as just diesel) locomotives in the early to mid-twentieth century. During that shift, railroad firms in the United States preferred diesel locomotives over electric locomotives because diesel has lower upfront costs, even though electric systems are less expensive to operate and maintain. Electric locomotives were chosen by railroad operators in many other developed countries, partially because the railroads were owned by the governments of those countries, who could better finance the necessary transmission infrastructure. Because railroads in the United States have historically been a regulated private sector industry, financing electrification upgrades is far more difficult than building diesel-fueled systems. As a result, electrified rail is currently used on less than 1% of railroad tracks in the United States, despite the fact that electricity provides more than one-third of the energy used to power trains worldwide.

In the United States, a few passenger rail lines (Amtrak’s Northeast corridor and the Harrisburg, PA, line) have been converted to electric power, while the rest of passenger rail and all freight train is diesel-powered. CalTrain, California’s commuter train system, is being upgraded to very high speed rail (VHSR) service, which will run on electricity. The system is expected to be operational by 2022 at a cost of $5 billion at the outset. Other electric VHSR systems (which would be powered by electricity) are being studied around the country, although money has not yet been secured.

Is Rail Electrification a Feasible Undertaking in the United States?

Transitioning from the current railway infrastructure in the United States to a nationally electrified rail system is a major endeavor, and the Solutionary Rail proposal does not include a cost estimate. It does, however, note that many other countries (Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, China, India, Japan, and so on) have made substantial attempts to electrify their railway networks, and that many more are currently doing so. However, because their railway services are government-owned and run, whereas U.S. railways are privately held, it is easier for other countries to acquire finance for big infrastructure expenditures like this than it is for their American equivalents (except for Amtrak, which is partially government-funded).

If there was ever a political reason, the US government could mandate that all railways be electrified by a specified date. The massive investment required is an apparent roadblock, and there is little appetite in Congress to reduce the nation’s carbon impact by converting to electric rail. Our would be more difficult in this country than in Europe or Asia, where urban populations are denser. While several other technologically advanced countries (e.g., Japan, Germany, France, Mexico, and Australia) have seen steady decreases in their consumption of petroleum (from which diesel is derived) in recent years, the United States’ consumption of petroleum has increased, owing in large part to transportation demand. I Despite the fact that the transportation sector emits 27% of all greenhouse gases in the United States, there is no national discussion about limiting the usage of combustion engines. ii

Public-Private Partnerships, Industry and Labor Groups Could Make the Difference

Some suggest employing a combination of federal, state, private sector, and possibly regional money to construct an electrified rail network through public-private partnerships (PPPs). In recent years, PPPs have been successful in a number of railroad projects, including the Norfolk Southern Heartland Corridor, which connected the Ohio-West Virginia-Virginia lines (and commenced service in 2010), and the Alameda Corridor, which connects Long Beach and Los Angeles, CA (which began operation in 2002). Electrification of freight train might begin with a demonstration project along the Northern Corridor, which connects various cities and villages from Seattle to Chicago. Several funding models to involve public and private actors in the investment process have been presented.

A push to electrify might garner the help of a variety of industrial and labor groups. Railway electrification would create new opportunities for rail employees (as well as many other industrial trades), making it appealing to labor unions, which might assist win public support for electrifying and modernizing railroads. Several railroad unions are likewise in favor of a more sustainable economy and would certainly support railway electrification. Railroad Workers United, for example, has approved a resolution to move the railroad industry away from fossil fuel shipping and toward more sustainable business prospects. Railroad Workers United represents rail workers from a number of unions involved in North American rail transport. The agriculture sector may be interested in railway electrification as a cost-effective means of moving produce. Agricultural items make up a far smaller percentage of freight rail shipments than fossil fuel shipments, and hence take a back seat in rail traffic. Rail shipments might become considerably more punctual and frequent than they are now, thanks to the greater capacity that electrified railways could give. Electric utilities may also play a role in assisting railway electrification. Utilities are one of freight rail’s most important customers, especially for delivering coal to power plants and carrying coal ash away. The revenues of freight train will decline as utilities become less reliant on coal, unless the railways establish a new business model, such as one that includes energy transfer. Finally, Native American tribes may gain from the project if their right-of-ways are properly negotiated and compensated, as well as if they are allowed to use the new transmission routes to distribute the electricity they create.

The fact that no federal, state, or municipal government action has been taken since the publication of Solutionary Rail in 2016 does not bode well. One critic challenged the idea to electrify railroads shortly after it was published, citing a number of economic issues. The critic, on the other hand, overlooked the environmental benefits of converting to electric-powered rail. Prioritizing the reduction of fossil fuel consumption, including the transition away from diesel fuel, is vital to avert the worst effects of climate change. Although such a transformation will be costly and time demanding, it is nonetheless necessary.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, petroleum consumption in the United States increased by 3.06 percent from 2013 to 2015.

ii. Environmental Protection Agency, Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, September 26, 2017,

Do electric trains use diesel?

In Germany, traditional lead acid batteries were used to test the use of batteries as a train’s power source at low speeds and with light loads. It’s a tried-and-true technology that’s both inexpensive and dependable, but the batteries have a finite lifespan and are constructed of corrosive liquids and precious elements.

Lithium-ion batteries have been tested in the United Kingdom as a backup power source for a train’s electric motor. Unfortunately, once disconnected from overhead lines, these could only go up to 50 kilometers. Battery trains can only run on specified routes and are difficult to replace when they go down, creating delays and disturbance.

Hydrogen fuel

A chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen can be used to generate sustainable power in hydrogen fuel cells. This may be used to power homes, offices, factories, autos, and public transportation, making them carbon-free and self-sufficient. Instead of a diesel tank and an engine, the train includes a hydrogen tank and a fuel cell that uses oxygen from the air to combine the hydrogen and oxygen from the air without combustion. Fuel cells generate electricity while emitting only water, resulting in zero emissions.

Sounds good, however hydrogen has a low energy density as a power source, so trains would need a lot of room to store the fuel. A litre of diesel has 36 megajoules of energy, whereas a litre of hydrogen only has 1.81 megajoules. This isn’t a problem for a lovely light automobile, but it becomes a significant issue when one massive locomotive is responsible for pulling 40 wagons, each weighing up to 80 tonnes.

It also doesn’t help that there are no facilities in the UK for producing or deploying huge amounts of hydrogen. Still, with the government and corporations racing to develop future fuels, it’s realistic to believe that this issue will be handled within the next ten years.

Why are diesel locomotives left running?

Diesel locomotives are gradually being phased out of the Indian railway system. The key reason for this is the high level of fuel reliance and the maintenance challenges that come with diesel engines.

Do diesel or petrol engines last longer?

When deciding which car to buy, you may have to make a decision about which engine to get. So, is it going to be diesel or gasoline? Diesel engines are well-known for their superior fuel economy, and some even claim they are better for the environment. So, which is the better option? We’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of each in this article. We’ll also address the crucial subject of whether diesel or gasoline engines endure longer.

Pros of diesel engines

  • If you drive lengthy distances, they are more cost-effective. It’s not a given that diesel engines are more cost-effective. In fact, if you frequently travel short distances, such as to the store or to pick up the kids from school. Then a gasoline engine is almost probably the more cost-effective choice. However, if you regularly spend hours commuting up and down the highway. A diesel engine, on the other hand, would provide you greater mileage for your money. A typical diesel engine generates about 30% higher fuel economy than a gasoline engine.
  • Diesel engines are regarded to be better for the environment because they have a higher fuel economy. Although the emissions they emit are dirtier than those produced by a gasoline engine, they can be regarded more environmentally beneficial because they provide more miles for the same amount of pollution.

They are more effective. A strong fuel injection system is used in diesel engines. This implies they’re more responsive and have more torque than their gasoline-powered equivalents.

Cons of diesel engines

  • Cars that run on diesel are more expensive. If you choose to buy a diesel car, you may expect to pay an extra £2000 on top of the vehicle’s advertised price. This may render any fuel economy benefits obsolete, so keep this in mind when making your decision.
  • Diesel fuel is more expensive than gasoline. While you get more miles for your money, the cost of fuel is higher, which causes some consumers to doubt the cost savings.
  • Not all automobile models are available in diesel, so if you have your heart set on a specific make and model, you may be out of luck if it isn’t available.

For a long time, transportation experts have predicted that diesel automobiles will be phased out in the United Kingdom. This is because the government is under pressure to prioritize air pollution reduction. The government wants to get rid of diesel cars from Britain’s roads by 2030. They have announced a scrappage program for diesel vehicle owners, which would begin in 2017. In this blog, we discuss whether or not diesel cars will be phased out.

Pros of petrol engines

  • At the pump, gasoline is less expensive than diesel. Not only that, but petrol automobiles have always been less expensive to purchase in general.
  • Some people prefer a petrol car’s quiet and refined driving experience over a diesel car’s.

Are diesel cars really more environmentally friendly?

Until January 2017, the government had led the way in promoting the use of diesel automobiles, claiming that they are 20% more efficient and hence better for the environment. Diesel engines emit twice as much hazardous nitrogen dioxide as their gasoline counterparts, which had not been considered. The government reversed its position in January, claiming that diesel engines are really worse for the environment and that measures will be implemented to restrict the number of diesel automobiles on British roads. Outdoor air pollution is responsible for 40% of deaths from stroke and heart disease, and nitrogen dioxide adds to certain serious health difficulties. According to Defra, nitrogen dioxide pollution causes 4% more deaths in the UK, or roughly 23,500 additional deaths per year.

So, do diesel or petrol engines last longer?

Diesel engines are more durable than gasoline engines. Diesel is a light oil that lubricates engine parts when burned and utilized as fuel by a vehicle. The engine’s life is extended as a result of this. Petrol is a detergent that removes oil from the engine’s components, causing it to wear out faster.

A petrol engine may typically go between 250,000 and 300,000 kilometers before it begins to burn oil and wear out. A diesel engine may easily travel 500,000 kilometers and still have room to go. Most mechanics estimate that if your diesel engine is properly maintained, it will last for 30 years on the road. (Image courtesy of The Globe and Mail)

Diesel engines endure longer, but they are more expensive to maintain. This is due in part to the complicated fuel pump, which is costly to fix or replace. A diesel car’s engine filters must be changed on a regular basis, and they can cost up to £100 apiece.

Will a diesel car be cheaper to lease?

As a result of the diesel scrappage scheme, a direct correlation between engine type and lease pricing is anticipated to become increasingly widespread. The residual value of the vehicle determines the lease price. The estimated value of the car at the end of the lease contract is known as the residual value. Until recently, diesel cars had a higher residual value and were thus less expensive to lease. Because the government is attempting to diminish the popularity of diesel vehicles, it is expected that the residual value of a diesel vehicle will be lower, resulting in a larger lease payment.

Why are diesel cars more expensive to insure?

Diesel cars are typically 10-15% more expensive than their gasoline counterparts. Diesel vehicles have higher average repair costs, which affects insurance premiums. Furthermore, insurers are required to include overall replacement costs in your premiums. As diesel automobiles are more expensive to purchase, this will increase your insurance rate in the event of theft.

Because insurance must consider in the greater overall replacement cost of a diesel if it is stolen, diesel automobiles have higher average accident repair costs overall.

In Conclusion

Choosing between a gasoline or diesel car used to be a considerably more difficult decision. However, new government laws and a forecast drop in the popularity of diesel cars over the next 25 years are causing concern. It might be a simpler choice. If you drive a lot of miles, a diesel car will still be the most cost-effective option. If you aren’t concerned about the car’s long-term resale worth. Alternatively, if you want to lease an automobile. Then diesel may still be a more cost-effective option than gasoline for you. However, if you don’t drive a lot of miles or are concerned about your car’s environmental impact, a petrol, hybrid, or electric vehicle will be the better option.

How many miles per gallon does a diesel locomotive get?

The formula for our 2018 fuel economy rating is as follows: (Source: CSX R-1 Report 2018)

  • Lines 1+3 (Line 4) of Schedule 750, Diesel Fuel Consumption (Freight + Switching) = 423,998,863 gallons

Over the previous decade, CSX has spent more than $2.8 billion on improving locomotive fuel efficiency and lowering emissions.

The ton-mile-per-gallon is a unit of measurement used to compare the effectiveness of various types of transportation while moving freight.

The rail business keeps track of revenue ton-miles and publishes them “Surface Transportation Board Annual Report” (commonly referred to as the R1 Report). ‘The’ “The annual value of “Ton-Miles of Freight” is recorded in Schedule 755, line 110 of the R1 Report. In the R1 Report, Schedule 750, line 4, the rail sector also tracks and reports annual fuel usage. The system-wide train efficiency value is calculated using these two stated values.

For example, CSX recorded 208,712,027,000 ton-miles of freight in the R1 Report in 2018, and the combined line haul and switcher reported fuel usage was 423,998,863 gallons.

In other words, based on our 2018 revenue ton miles and fuel use, CSX trains can move a ton of freight nearly 500 miles on a gallon of fuel.

A freight truck’s fuel economy can be calculated in a similar method. For example, assuming an average 7 miles per gallon truck fuel efficiency and a typical truck payload of 19 tons, a heavy-duty diesel truck moving 19 tons of freight over 500 miles would burn approximately 71 gallons of diesel fuel. This freight haul’s efficiency would be computed as follows:

This efficiency could be described as follows: “On a gallon of gas, a truck can transport a ton of freight 134 miles.”

Similarly, a normal train might transport 3,000 tons of freight for 500 miles while using 3,049 gallons of diesel fuel. This freight haul’s efficiency would be computed as follows:

This efficiency could be described as follows: “On a gallon of fuel, a train can transport a ton of freight 492 miles.”

As illustrated by the ratio of 492 train ton-miles per gallon split by 134 truck ton-miles per gallon in this example, the train is nearly 3.7 times more efficient at moving freight.

How much fuel does a diesel locomotive use?

With an engine speed range of 500 to 6,000 rpm, most cars with a five- or six-speed transmission can drive 110 mph (177 kph) or quicker. Our diesel locomotive’s engine has a much limited speed range. It has a top speed of only 904 rpm and an idle speed of roughly 269 rpm. A locomotive with this speed range would require 20 or 30 gears to reach 110 mph (177 kph).

A gearbox like this would be massive, complicated, and wasteful (it would have to manage 3,200 horsepower). It would also have to deliver electricity to four separate sets of wheels, adding to the complexity.

The main diesel engine can run at a constant speed while turning an electrical generator in a hybrid configuration. The generator provides electrical power to each axle’s traction motor, which drives the wheels. Without changing gears, the traction motors can create enough torque at any speed, from a complete stop to 110 mph (177 kph).

Why Diesel?

Engines that run on diesel are more efficient than those that run on gasoline. When towing around five passenger cars, a locomotive like this uses an average of 1.5 gallons of fuel every mile (352 L per 100 km). Locomotives towing hundreds of fully loaded freight trains consume far more gasoline, so even a 5% or 10% reduction in efficiency would rapidly add up to a large increase in fuel expenditures.

Which is better diesel or electric locomotive?

A locomotive that is powered by electricity from overhead lines, a third rail, or on-board energy storage such as a battery or a supercapacitor is known as an electric locomotive.

Because the electric generator/motor combination solely functions as a power transmission system, locomotives with on-board fueled prime movers, such as diesel engines or gas turbines, are classified as diesel-electric or gas turbine-electric locomotives rather than electric locomotives.

Electric locomotives benefit from electric motors’ high efficiency, which is often above 90%. (not including the inefficiency of generating the electricity). Regenerative braking, which allows kinetic energy to be recovered during braking and used to put power back on the line, can improve efficiency. Regenerative braking is available on newer electric locomotives thanks to AC motor-inverter driving systems. Because there is no engine or exhaust noise and less mechanical noise, electric locomotives are quieter than diesel locomotives. Because electric locomotives do not have reciprocating parts, they are easier to operate on the track and require less maintenance. Because the capacity of the power plant is significantly greater than the capacity of any one locomotive, electric locomotives can deliver higher power outputs than diesel locomotives, as well as higher short-term surge power for rapid acceleration. Electric locomotives are suited for frequent-stop commuter rail service. Electric locomotives are employed on freight routes with a significant volume of traffic or in locations with well-developed rail networks. Even if they utilize fossil fuels, power plants are significantly cleaner than transportable sources like locomotive engines. Geothermal power, hydroelectric power, biomass, solar power, nuclear power, and wind turbines are all examples of clean or renewable energy sources. Electric locomotives are typically 20% less expensive than diesel locomotives, with maintenance expenses of 25-35 percent cheaper and operating costs of up to 50% lower.

The expensive expense of infrastructure, such as overhead lines or third rail, substations, and control systems, is the main downside of electrification. Electrification is hampered in the United States by government policy, which imposes higher property taxes on privately held train systems that are electrified. The EPA regulates locomotive and marine engine exhaust emissions in the same way that automobile and truck emissions are regulated, in order to restrict the quantity of carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, nitric oxides, and soot produced by these mobile power sources. Because train infrastructure in the United States is privately held, railroads are hesitant to engage in electrification. Railway networks, like roads, motorways, and rivers, are considered part of the national transportation infrastructure in Europe and worldwide, and are frequently subsidized by the government. Rolling stock operators are charged fees based on how much rail is used. This enables the significant investments required for technically and economically advantageous electrification in the long run.