Earth Day 2021: Restore Our Earth – Green Technology


Christopher Owen

The Long Island Railroad (“LIRR”), the nation’s largest commuter railway company that conducts 89 million rides a year, just announced an agreement with the French railcar manufacturer Alstom to perform a feasibility study to determine if battery operated trains can replace diesel fuel service and can create single-seat rides without transfers to Manhattan. This would reduce carbon emissions and improve service for customers. The green technology involves retrofitting existing electric train cars with a rechargeable battery (batteries) for use on the non-electrified portion of certain diesel routes. When third rail electric conductivity is available on these routes, the battery (batteries) would switch to a recharging mode. Similar technology is already in use in European and Asian railway systems. Alstom is a worldwide leader in rail transport markets with products including Eurostar, AGV, TGV Avelia, and New Pendolino high-speed trains as well as suburban, regional, and metro trains. The LIRR study of a battery-powered commuter rail car is the first in North America and its findings will be shared with the MTA’s other commuter rail line, Metro-North. 

The approximately $1 million, 8 month-long study will begin next month in May 2021. The first phase will focus on many issues including the specifications of the batteries, where to locate them on the trains-under the seats, on the roof, or underneath the cars, how easily a train can switch from battery to electrified third rail, how much power will be needed for the several-ton diesel trains to get up hills, how quickly a battery will be able to recharge at a 60-second station stop, where to place recharging stations, and how often batteries will need to be replaced. With the second phase of the study, electricians will retrofit an existing two-car electric train with battery power and do passengerless trial runs. Initial trial runs will be on the Oyster Bay branch due to its short 13-mile route. The goal will be to use the battery technology on all of the four diesel train branches which include Oyster Bay, Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma, and Montauk. If the pilot is successful, some trains may be equipped with rechargeable batteries as early as next year. 

Although the costs involved in the battery power conversion are not yet fully known, LIRR executives estimate that converting their diesel train routes to electric would cost over $17 billion and take over 10 years. If this study proves successful, battery-electric train cars will replace noisy, carbon-emitting diesel-powered cars with quieter, more reliable, and zero-emissions cars. Service will also improve as travel across the railroad will become transfer-free. LIRR’s President, Phil Eng, said he hopes this technology will steer the industry in a new greener direction across the entire United States.