Beef-Powered Trains And The Evolution Of Rail In America

Once upon a time, America relied on its railroad to move people and goods across the vast landscape that comprises this beautiful land. But with the rise of the automobile, personal transportation quickly outstripped the need for passenger trains. Slowly but surely, passenger rail all but disappeared outside of the Northeast United States.

That left millions of miles of railroad free and clear for massive freight trains to take over. Unlike many other nations where rail freight is rarely profitable, America has a vast network of freight trains and yards hauling goods to and fro. And trains are remarkably efficient, especially at moving heavy goods. Diesel-electric is the name of the game these days, which leaves open the possibility for biofuels to play a role in America’s freight network.

In fact, it already has, albeit in a limited capacity. Back in November, GE and Amtrak concluded a year-long test run of the Heartland Flyer line, which runs between Fort Worth, Texas and Oklahoma. The P32 diesel-electric engine used a B20 blend of biodiesel, which is 20% biodiesel and 80% conventional diesel.

Sourced locally from beef tallow, a rendered form of beef fat, the train spent an entire year running B20, and the results were good. Not only did the B20 blend of beef tallow reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions by 10%, it also reduced particulate and sulfate emissions by 15% and 20% respectively.

More importantly though, after a few year of running the beef tallow B20, none of the locomotive’s engine components or gaskets showed any sign of premature wear and tear. This isn’t GE’s first dance at the biofuel ball though. Down in Brazil, many of GE’s Evolution locomotives already run on biodiesel in order to meet the South American nation’s sustainable fuel laws.

While biodiesel locomotives are not something you hear a lot about on the news, it is available through GE’s new interactive Data Visualization app. This app puts all of their annual reports dating back to 1892 at your fingertips, letting you peer into the world of GE’s ever-evolving technology.

This neat new app is what has helped me track GE’s progress in the world of rail transportation, a subject that is especially close to my heart. It shows how GE was involved in America’s first rail electrification projects, and how they remain a pioneer in biofuels development for both trains and aviation.

This post was written in collaboration with GE as part of their new Data Visualization app.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.