The Long Island Rail Road wants to be the first commuter railroad in North America to run battery powered trains. It will begin a nearly $1 million analysis of its electric trains on the Oyster Bay branch to see whether they can be converted to run on batteries alone for some sections.
“This is not the first step, but quite possibly a quantum leap to the future. One that is greener, quieter,” Phil Eng, president of the LIRR, said Monday.
Some trains in Europe already run on rechargeable batteries.
The MTA’s battery study will last eight months and will test how long a train can run on batteries, how fast they can be re-charged, and how easily a train can switch from battery to electrified third rail power. The test trains are expected to operate using third rail power on the electric section of the line, charging the batteries as they travel, then switch over to the battery-only power along the non-electrified section of track between East Williston and Oyster Bay.
The MTA will also assess how much power the several-ton diesel trains need to get up hills, as well as safety issues.
Tesla recently drew attention after it reportedly took firefighters several hours to extinguish one of its models that was operating on “auto-pilot” when it hit a tree and caught fire, leaving two passengers dead. A spokesperson for the MTA said throughout its testing process, safety is a top priority.
The first phase of the LIRR study will be confined to looking at specs on paper. It will be followed by trial runs on trains with no passengers.
The train manufacturer Alstom will conduct the trials with the MTA. During the analysis, they will determine where exactly the batteries might be located, under seats, on the roof, or under the cars of the M7 trains which run on the Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson branches.
If the eight month trial is successful, the MTA could begin retrofitting the M7 trains as soon as next year, with plans to test the battery-powered trains on more non-electrified branches. It’s unclear how much it would cost to retrofit the trains and keep them charged, but the MTA is confident it would be cheaper than electrifying the entire line. That would cost the MTA $17 billion.
“From an environmental perspective, this is a great opportunity for the Long Island Rail Road and the MTA to reduce its diesel output and to give cleaner air to all of the communities which diesel now runs,” Mitchell Pally, a former MTA board member and chair of the Long Island chapter of the League of Conservation Voters, said Monday. “Hopefully it will significantly expand the opportunities for electrified service.”