California Energy Commission awards Sierra Northern Railway Team nearly $4,000,000 to build and test Hydrogen Switcher Locomotive

California Energy Commission awards Sierra Northern Railway Team nearly $4,000,000 to build and test Hydrogen Switcher Locomotive

California Energy Commission awards Sierra Northern Railway Team nearly $4,000,000

to build and test Hydrogen Switcher Locomotive


Sacramento, California – March 18, 2021 – The California Energy Commission yesterday voted to award Sierra Northern Railway and GTI nearly $4,000,000 to fund the design, integration, and demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive at the Port of West Sacramento. The locomotive will show the potential of hydrogen fuel-cell technology to reduce transportation air pollutant and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The funds will be used to retire a tier 0 diesel locomotive and to replace it with a zero-emission switching locomotive using advanced hydrogen technology. The project involves the integration of advanced hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen storage, advanced battery and systems control technologies to provide an alternative to less environmentally friendly diesel-powered locomotives. Upon completion, the new hydrogen-fueled, zero-emissions switcher locomotive will displace the need for up to 10,000 gallons of conventional diesel fuel per year. The demonstration will facilitate the improvement of local air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and odor.

The overall project goals and objectives are:

• To design a safe and reliable hydrogen fuel cell powered locomotive.

• To build the locomotive and demonstrate its operations in a real-world environment.

• To collect data during the demonstration period to provide insights into the performance, operations, and costs of this technology.

• To support commercialization activities to expand the use of hydrogen in the rail sector.


Demonstration and validation of this technology will establish a platform for widespread commercialization in the immediate future. Because locomotives are federally regulated, incentivizing railroads to implement new environmental technologies is challenging. The potential California market for new hydrogen locomotives includes more than 260 switcher locomotives and up to 500 intrastate locomotives.

It is important for California to encourage the rail sector along with all of California’s transportation sectors, to decarbonize its operations to help achieve the State’s environmental goals. Short-line and switching locomotives account for a significant share of the total locomotive energy use within the State as they carry a significant portion of freight in California and operate on the first and last miles of the national freight network. This makes short-line operations an excellent testbed for the demonstration of zero-emission technologies. Most switcher locomotives in California use an average of 50,000 gallons per year per switcher potentially leading to a reduction of more than 12 million gallons of diesel per year. This is approximately equivalent to the same amount of fuel used each year by 20,000 light-duty vehicles.

“We are pleased to partner with this great team to build and test this innovative zero emission switching locomotive. We believe this project will help lead the switching locomotive industry to an emissions free pathway in all ports in the State of California.” Said Kennan H. Beard III, President of Sierra Northern Railway.

 “We look forward to being able to provide leadership on this important State effort with this demonstration project,” Beard said.

“The rail sector and goods movement in ports are challenging applications for low-carbon energy because of they often require near-continuous operation and high power levels,” notes Ted Barnes, Director of R&D at GTI. “This project directly addresses those issues as we seek to advance technologies that can enable ports as high-throughput clusters for affordable, low-carbon hydrogen and achieve scaled demand across multiple applications.”

Adam Bennett, General Manager Railpower Tech LLC said "We are excited to be part of an ambitious plan to design, build, and operate a safe and dependable hydrogen-powered switch locomotive."

Tim Sasseen, Ballard Sales Manager for California said, “We are excited to be working with Sierra Northern Railway toward demonstration of a fuel cell-powered switching locomotive at the Port of West Sacramento. This is another sign of increasing momentum in the deployment of zero-emission fuel cell propulsion solutions in the rail industry across numerous geographies, including North America. Fuel cells offer a compelling value proposition for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Motive applications, including rail, bus, truck and marine vessels, which we are keen to demonstrate for a switching locomotive, in addition to our work powering passenger and freight trains.”

"Valley Vision is excited to be part of the test hydrogen switcher locomotive team. We believe that our region should be an innovation test bed for new, clean transportation technologies and that this effort demonstrates the Capital region's collaborative and dynamic capabilities. Advanced transportation technologies are a key component to meeting climate goals and also support an innovative regional economy." Said Evan Schmidt, Chief Executive Officer of Valley Vision.

“OptiFuel Involvement with the Sierra Northern Railway’s team is a continuation of OptiFuel’s goal of decarbonizing the rail market over the next 15 years”, said Scott Myers, President of OptiFuel Systems

About the Project Partners

Sierra Northern Railway is the technical lead and has partnered with GTI as the formal applicant to the California Energy Commission. Other technical partners are Railpower Tech LLC, Ballard Power Systems, Optifuel Systems LLC, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Valley Vision, Velocity Strategies, Southern California Gas Company and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

About Sierra Northern Railway:

Sierra Northern Railway is the freight division of privately-owned, Sierra Railroad Company. Sierra Railroad Company is also the principal owner of Sierra Energy Corporation, which has developed a proprietary waste to clean hydrogen technology: FastOx® gasification. Sierra Northern Railway currently operates approximately 75 miles of track in Northern California, through the heart of a number of California's prime industrial areas, serving a wide variety of customers, and interchanging with both the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad.



About GTI: 

GTI is a leading research, development and training organization that has been addressing global energy and environmental challenges by developing technology-based solutions for consumers, industry, and government for 80 years.


For media requests, please contact:

Diane Miller, GTI Marketing Communications Director 847-768-0683; dmiller@gti.energy


About Railpower Tech LLC:

Railpower Tech LLC supplies critical parts and remote technical service to railroads that operate Railpower locomotives.



About Ballard Power Systems:

Ballard Power Systems' (NASDAQ: BLDP; TSX: BLDP) vision is to deliver fuel cell power for a sustainable planet. Ballard’s zero-emission PEM fuel cells are enabling the electrification of mobility, including buses, commercial trucks, trains, marine vessels, passenger cars, and forklift trucks.



About OptiFuel Systems:

OptiFuel Systems is providing zero emissions products (NOx, PM, CO2) for decarbonizing rail, marine, and microgrid power applications with innovative, cost-efficient, and sustainable solutions using advanced gaseous fuels and Cummins hybrid power products. In 2021, OptiFuel Systems will introduce additional zero emissions solutions in the rail, marine, and generator markets to replace diesel with negative-carbon RNG.



About the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies:

The Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis (ITS-Davis) is the world’s leading university center on sustainable transportation, hosting the National Center on Sustainable Transportation since 2013 (awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation) and managing large research initiatives on energy, environmental, and social issues. It is home to more than 60 affiliated faculty and researchers and more than 120 graduate students and, including its affiliated centers, has an annual budget of $20 million.



About Valley Vision:

For 25 years Valley Vision has helped governments, businesses, foundations, and community groups better understand our region and its people through high quality research. By uncovering common ground facts using scientific opinion polls, focus groups, community needs assessments, best practice reports, and other research tools, Valley Vision has become a trusted interpreter, commentator, forecaster, and work partner for community inspired solutions.



About Velocity Strategies:

Velocity Strategies is a public affairs firm specializing in infrastructure, clean energy, development projects, and campaigns.



About SoCalGas

Headquartered in Los Angeles, SoCalGas® is the largest gas distribution utility in the United States. SoCalGas delivers affordable, reliable, clean and increasingly renewable gas service to 21.8 million customers across 24,000 square miles of Central and Southern California, where more than 90 percent of residents use natural gas for heating, hot water, cooking, drying clothes or other uses. Gas delivered through the company's pipelines also plays a key role in providing electricity to Californians— about 45 percent of electric power generated in the state comes from gas-fired power plants. SoCalGas' vision is to be the cleanest gas utility in North America, delivering affordable and increasingly renewable energy to its customers. In support of that vision, SoCalGas is committed to helping homes and businesses decarbonize their energy usage by delivering 5% renewable gas by 2022 and 20% by 2030. Renewable natural gas is made from waste created by dairy farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. SoCalGas is also committed to investing in its gas delivery infrastructure while keeping bills affordable for our customers. From 2015 through 2019, the company invested nearly $7 billion to upgrade and modernize its pipeline system to enhance safety and reliability. SoCalGas is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE), an energy services holding company based in San Diego. For more information visit socalgas.com/newsroom or connect with SoCalGas on Twitter (@SoCalGas), Instagram (@SoCalGas) and Facebook.


About the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District: 

The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District was formed in 1959 to monitor, promote, and improve air quality in Sacramento County. The District is the local air agency with the responsibility for advancing the greater capital region towards meeting all national ambient air quality standards and the state’s decarbonization commitments for protection of the global climate.