Battery Powered Electric Locomotive For Australian Miner

Electric trains

Roy Hill says it is set to be the first Pilbara miner to use a battery-powered electric locomotive to transport its iron ore to port.

Roy Hill is mining operation in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, currently delivering 60 million tonnes of iron ore per annum to international markets and with recent approval to increase to 70 million tonnes annually.

The operation currently uses four Wabtec diesel-electric locomotives in a “consist” to pull trains that are typically 2.7km long and carrying 35,000 tonnes of iron ore. So, a lot of emissions are involved.

The journeys will get a little greener and cleaner through the purchase of a FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive from US-based manufacturer Wabtec.

FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive

This isn’t just about cutting emissions – Roy Hill expects the FLXdrive locomotive to slash the company’s fuel costs and emissions by “double digit percentages” per train, as well as reduce operational costs through lower maintenance.

“The FLXdrive locomotive will be the first for the region and the first for the mining industry and will improve our rail operations from the mine to Port Hedland,” said Roy Hill chief executive Gerhard Veldsman.

Roy Hill expects to take delivery of the first locomotive in 2023.

More On The Wabtec FLXdrive

The lithium-ion battery storage for the original FLXdrive consists of approximately 20,000 battery cells in 20 racks for a total storage capacity of 2.4 megawatt-hours – but Roy Hill will be taking delivery of a train with 7MWh capacity.

Recharging occurs through a wayside charging station and regenerative braking. The regenerative braking is very important and what contributes significantly to the emissions reduction. When trains of this nature have to brake, it’s an expensive exercise as fuel is guzzled to get back up to speed. But with the FLXdrive locomotive, some of the energy that would have been lost in braking is regained.

Another important part of the technology is the Trip Optimiser system, which Roy Hill describes as:

“an intelligent cruise control system programmed using artificial intelligence to respond to every curve and grade of the track in the most energy-efficient way.”

The top speed of the locomotive is 120 km/h and Wabtec says the FLXDrive technology can provide 10 – 15% fuel and emissions savings across the whole train.

The FLXDrive pilot was developed as part of a grant project with the California Air Resource Board (CARB), BNSF (the largest freight railroad network in North America) and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

The regenerative braking side of things is pretty cool, but what would be great to see is the wayside charging being provided by renewables. Just on that, it was revealed earlier this year there are plans for a 30MW solar farm for Roy Hill – so perhaps a bit of sunshine might find its way into the locomotive.

Like the juggernauts these trains are, the rise of renewables in mining is rumbling along – and even Gina Rinehart is understanding the benefits.  Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting is the majority stakeholder in Roy Hill.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. Phil sutherland says

    If the battery capacity is sufficient then the locomotive may not need a lot of trackside recharging. Roy Hill is about 400m above seal level – so there’s a fair amount of potential energy to be harvested from effectively lowering thousands of tons of iron ore down to sea level, even allowing for all of the inefficiencies in the process.

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