A trio of rail industry players will create a “Freight Rail Innovation Institute” designed to help cut emissions, improve network utilization and safety, and create jobs in the sector, according to an announcement Friday by Carnegie Mellon University, Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W), and rail technology provider Wabtec Corp.
The initiative comes from two agreements by Pittsburgh-based Wabtec, the first of which aligns with its hometown partner Carnegie Mellon University to tap in to the school’s capabilities in engineering, artificial intelligence, battery technology, autonomy, and robotics.
And in the second alliance, Wabtec agreed to join with Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W)—the country’s largest owner of short line and regional freight railroads—to pursue zero-emission battery and hydrogen freight strategies, as well as increase rail utilization across North America.
Working together, the partners in the Freight Rail Innovation Institute will be charged with creating zero-emission locomotives, developing technology that increases freight rail utilization and improves safety by 50%, and creates 250,000 jobs by 2030.
That vision consists of two parts: one consists of powering locomotive fleets with alternative energy sources—such as batteries and, eventually, hydrogen fuel cells—for a zero-emissions freight rail network pilot. The second focuses on advancements to current signaling systems and digital technologies to increase rail network capacity, utilization and safety across the U.S.
And as those concepts are developed, G&W’s Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad will pilot technologies developed by the Freight Rail Innovation Institute, including a zero-emissions battery and hydrogen-powered train that is planned for revenue operation over 200 miles of track between Pittsburgh and Buffalo, N.Y. within the next three years.
“The time is right to accelerate the application of emerging technologies to transform the rail industry,” Farnam Jahanian, president of Carnegie Mellon University, said in a release. “Advances in digital technologies and artificial intelligence will revolutionize freight rail by driving dramatic improvements in safety and network capacity, while simultaneously increasing efficiency across the nation’s supply chain. As these emerging technologies converge with clean energy breakthroughs, we also see a tremendous opportunity to enable the decarbonization of freight rail.”