Just a short distance away from a hospital in Anaheim sits a rail yard where dangerous emissions could be a concern for patients and employees locked inside with no exit from emitted pollutants as trains roll through the region.
Quick to point out the problem on Thursday was South Pasadena City Councilmember Michael Cacciotti, who also serves on the board for the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD).
“That’s not a good situation at all,” said Cacciotti, pointing in the direction of the health care facility. “Thankfully, there’s somebody doing something about it.”
Cacciotti took the hour-long drive from South Pasadena into Orange County seated in an electric vehicle – his usual mode of transportation, joining a bicycle, buses and trains, the latter two void of the coronavirus pandemic, of course – to witness firsthand a pair of locomotives equipped with battery electrical systems.
He was joined by other SCAQMD officials, who came out to meet with Ian Stewart, president of Rail Propulsions Systems in Fullerton, as he and his team demonstrated the effort behind converting diesel operated locomotives using new, awe-inspiring technology.
Rail Propulsions Systems received a grant from the air quality agency as part of a unique testing program with the bottom line to rid pollutants in the air. “This is great,” said Cacciotti, looking on as one of the battery electric locomotives pulled five cars in front of the observers. “Both of the locomotives were diesel-powered at one time and are now converted with recycled electric batteries from vehicles, including the Tesla and the Nissan Leaf. We’ve converted them over, taking out the motor above the chassis, and replaced them with batteries.”
On a visit to the rail yard two months ago, Cacciotti witnessed the 999 locomotive pull 10 cars.
The two locomotives – given the names 1201 and 999 –operated at 100 percent power as Stewart talked at length about the steps taken to bring the pollution-free locomotives to fruition. He launched his company, RPS for short, about five years ago with the intent to modernize locomotives and reduce their emissions “because they are a primary source of poor air quality in our area,” stressed Stewart, adding that his firm focused on switcher and passenger locomotives, resulting in successfully converting the two trains sitting in the rail yard to zero emissions battery-electric.
A switcher locomotive is designed to switch rail cars back-and-forth in a yard. “Thomas the Train, the tank engine, is a switcher locomotive,” explained Stewart, referring to the fictional steam engine in the Railway Series books. “They do their work in inner-city areas and have their greatest impact on emissions improvement in metropolitan areas to improve air quality. Passenger locomotives, which are much larger, go out on the mainline and are much faster.”
Stewart envisions making the conversion from diesel-operated to battery-electric on both switcher and passenger locomotives. “We initially want to focus on where we can do the most benefit, which are in high populous areas where the air quality is already bad, by making these diesels into battery electric,” he added.
In simple terms, Cacciotti breaks it down, saying: “It would be like your car, taking out all the components that make it move, the motor, carburetor, etc., and replacing it with all electric technology.”
Key to RPS meeting the requirements for funding from the SCAQMD came when one of the battery electric locomotives on Thursday pulled a handful of cars behind it, past the group of impressed onlookers in the rail yard.
“This is great to see,” exclaimed Cacciotti, pleased by what he was witnessing. “We’re here to ensure that the funding from SCAQMD funding is proposed to do. You don’t see the smoke you usually see from a diesel run locomotives, no pollutants, because it’s battery electric. There are no emissions that are so harmful to everyone’s health.”
Living near railroad stations, especially those with high-volume, are linked to an increase in cancer, according to a California study, due to exposure to diesel pollution from trains that are more energy efficient than automobiles, yet have significant negative effects on the environment, including the production of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter, all contributing to air pollution.
Pointing in toward the hospital, Cacciotti expressed his concern for those being treated in Kaiser Permanente, approximately 100 yards away from where the rail yard lies. “Having electric locomotives will reduce the harmful particulate emissions for the workers and patients who may have respiratory issues,” he said. “I like what I see – the conversion of diesel engines to battery electric. This is a big advancement. We’re using second used batteries. Instead of throwing them out, we’re giving them upgrades and reusing them in locomotives. It’s a positive step forward.”