First Estonian LNG-powered locomotive on test run

2022/04/20 at 8:44 AM

Operail, the Estonian national rail freight operator, has commenced the test run of the GE C36 LNG-powered locomotive. It is the first vehicle of this type in Estonia and the entire Baltics. In the coming weeks, the innovative locomotive will perform the trial rides on the Tapa-Kohtla railway in the east of the country.

To reduce carbon emissions and fuel costs, Operail, the Estonian state-owned rail freight operator, is planning to introduce LNG-powered locomotives on the country’s network. In mid-April, it began the test run of the pilot vehicle, which was developed on the basis of the GE C36 diesel locomotive. The converted unit was completed last summer. Operail needed several months to certify the new type of vehicle for operations on the railway network of Estonia.

Operail LNG-powered locomotive, source: Operail

For testing the first Estonian LNG-powered locomotive, the rail freight operator chose the 76-kilometre-long railway between its depot in Tapa and the station of Kohtla. The route is suitable for trials as it is actively used for freight operations. Initially, the vehicle will run on diesel to measure all parameters and fine-tune the engine. Afterwards, it will be powered from LNG to measure fuel economy and environmental benefits. “Currently, the LNG locomotive runs in pairs with another locomotive that can help in case something happens, but the LNG has done very well so far,” Operail stated. After the test run, the rail freight operator will define how many diesel locomotives will it convert into the LNG-powered units.

Project details

Operail initiated the project in October 2019. To this end, it joined forces with DiGas, the Latvian engineering company that is focused on developing dual-fuel solutions for railways. First, the partners intended to complete the project and put the innovative locomotive into regular operation by late 2020. The coronavirus pandemic forced them to postpone their initial plans.

As a result, the converted vehicle was demonstrated in summer 2021 at Operail’s depot in Tapa. Its 17,000-litre fuel tank was split into two sections: one will be further used for filling diesel fuel while the second one will be equipped with the LNG storage system. Such a combination will allow Operail to reduce fuel consumption by 30 per cent, carbon emissions by 20 per cent and 70 per cent less sulphur dioxide. In February 2022, the LNG-powered locomotive obtained all necessary certificates to run on the Estonian mainlines.

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