Wabtec and Roy Hill unveil the first FLXdrive battery locomotive

Wabtec and its launch customer Roy Hill, a leading iron ore miner majority owned by Hancock Prospecting, have celebrated the debut of the FLXdrive battery locomotive, the world’s first 100% battery-powered, heavy-haul locomotive for mainline service. The ceremony unveiled the unique, striking, pink-coloured locomotive at Wabtec’s design and development centre in the USA state of Pennsylvania in front of employees, customer executives, and other officials.

“This FLXdrive locomotive represents a major step in the journey to a low-to-zero-emission future in the rail industry,” said Rafael Santana, President & CEO of Wabtec. “The FLXdrive is driven from within by our battery technology. Roy Hill is an ideal customer to partner with given their leadership and excellent operational record.”

Roy Hill’s FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive will feature an energy capacity of seven megawatt hours (MWh). Based on the route and company’s rail operations, the FLXdrive is anticipated to provide a double-digit percentage reduction in fuel costs and emissions per train. Once Wabtec completes the final battery installations and track testing, the locomotive will begin its 17,000-kilometre journey in 2024 for delivery to its new home in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, one of the world’s premier mining precincts.

“The foresight of our Executive Chairman, Gina Rinehart AO, has been instrumental in establishing an environment in which we can successfully leverage the ingenuity of our people alongside key partners like Wabtec to transform our rail and mining operations through next-generation technologies,” said Gerhard Veldsman, CEO of Hancock Prospecting Group Operations.

“The FLXdrive locomotive represents not only a first for the Pilbara, but a first for the mining industry. The technological smarts that have gone into the development of the loco make it well-suited for our rail network. By using regenerative braking, it will also charge its battery on the 344km downhill run from our mine to port facility and use that stored energy to return to the mine, starting the cycle all over again. This will not only enable us to realise energy efficiencies but also lower operating costs.”

Right now, Roy Hill uses four Wabtec ES44ACi “Evolution Series” diesel-electric locomotives to pull trains that are typically 2,700 metres in length carrying more than 33,000 tonnes of iron ore. The addition of the FLXdrive will form a hybrid locomotive ‘consist,’ with Wabtec diesel-electric locomotives. The FLXdrive manages the overall train energy flow and distribution through its state-of-the-art energy management software. It is also designed with a unique battery thermal management system using liquid cooling to withstand the Pilbara heat, where ambient temperatures can exceed 55°C.

Roy Hill’s iconic pink livery symbolises the company’s commitment to assisting research and those suffering from breast cancer. To commemorate the FLXdrive’s premiere, Roy Hill, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Wabtec donated nearly A$80,000 to Linked By Pink, a non-profit organisation consisting of Erie area survivors diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45.

Roy Hill is a world-class iron ore operation in Western Australia’s mineral-rich Pilbara region. Roy Hill is chaired by prominent Australian business leader and current West Australian of the Year, Gina Rinehart AO. Roy Hill incorporates an integrated mine, rail, and port facilities, shipping more than 63 million tonnes per annum. Roy Hill’s first shipment departed Port Hedland in December 2015 to South Korea and in the years since has established itself as a trusted and reliable producer of iron ore, delivering to steel-making markets including Japan, South Korea, India, Malaysia, China, and Vietnam.