SoCalGas Partners with Sierra Northern Railway to Fund Development of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Switcher Rail Locomotive

SoCalGas Partners with Sierra Northern Railway to Fund Development of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Switcher Rail Locomotive

Hydrogen fuel cell powered locomotive technology is designed to replace diesel engines to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions near ports and warehouses

LOS ANGELES, July 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) announced today it will be working together with Sierra Northern Railway, Gas Technology Institute (GTI), and other technical experts to develop and test a zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell engine for a switcher locomotive. Switcher locomotives are a type of engine for trains that carry goods from ports to nearby warehouses. Creating a fuel cell engine for these trains would potentially eliminate their emissions and provide a much-needed reduction in air pollution from the railways that serve California's warehouses and ports. The project was selected for funding by the California Energy Commission, which awarded Sierra Northern Railway and GTI nearly $4 million to fund the design and demonstration of the train in Sacramento, with the goal of creating a clean alternative to diesel locomotives. SoCalGas is committing another $500,000 to advance the research.

"We believe hydrogen fuel cell-powered locomotives can play a significant role in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the railways that serve California's ports and warehouses," said Neil Navin, SoCalGas Vice President of Clean Energy Innovations. "This research is just part of our efforts to lead the transition to clean fuels in California and it supports our commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and delivery of energy by 2045."

The issue of warehouse-related air pollution received heightened attention earlier this month when the air quality regulators at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) adopted a rule to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) and diesel particulate matter emissions from diesel trucks serving distribution centers. In order to comply with this new rule, warehouses larger than 100,000 square feet can choose to directly reduce emissions from their operations or pay a mitigation fee to fund technologies and projects that reduce air pollution in nearby communities.

Sierra Northern Railway proposes to retire a high-emission Tier 0 diesel locomotive engine and replace it with an engine that will integrate a hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen storage tank with advanced battery and systems control technologies. Upon completion, the new zero-emissions switcher locomotive will displace up to 10,000 gallons of conventional diesel fuel per year by using hydrogen fuel, providing the capacity to eliminate more than 100 metric tons of carbon dioxide—more than that produced by driving a car 250,000 miles. In addition to helping improve air quality and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the hydrogen fuel cell locomotive technology will eliminate the noise and odor associated with diesel engines.

"Sierra Northern Railway is very pleased to partner with SoCalGas to design, build and test the switcher locomotive.  Without their support, building this important next step zero emission locomotive would not be possible. This demonstration will facilitate the improvement of local air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and odor for those communities that live near ports throughout California." Said Kennan H. Beard III, President of Sierra Northern Railway.

"This locomotive project is very exciting not only for us, but for the entire rail industry," said Michael Faust, President of Velocity Strategies and lead project consultant for Sierra Northern Railway. "It will further demonstrate how locomotives across the state can shift to hydrogen fuel cell technology and be a part of clean energy solutions. Sierra Northern Railway is thrilled to lead by example with this work and showcase what kind of innovation is possible."

"Hydrogen fuel cell technology for locomotives is a clear path forward in the future, as it provides a safe, responsible and efficient energy alternative," said Ted Barnes, Director of Research & Development at GTI. "This project is an opportunity to propel long-term technological advancements forward in the rail sector that will have a direct positive impact on our environment. "

Project demonstrations will take place on Sierra Northern Railway's short-line operations, which serve the railyard and seaport in West Sacramento. Sierra Northern Railway and GTI will partner with an experienced team of rail and hydrogen industry experts to build and test the train engine. These experts include Ballard Power Systems, Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Railpower Tech LLC, OptiFuel Systems LLC, Valley Vision, Velocity Strategies, and Frontier Energy.

"It is exciting to be a part of a hydrogen fuel cell project that could have a lasting impact both locally and globally," said Lewis Fulton, Director of Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways at University of California Davis. "Not only will the West Sacramento communities near the railway benefit from Sierra Northern Railway's build and demonstration, but this research could also have a lasting, wide-scale effect on the rail industry's future as a whole."

"By increasing utilization of hydrogen fuel cell power in locomotives, we will have the ability to further sustainability goals both across the state and the entire U.S.," said Tim Sasseen, Market Development Manager at Ballard Power Systems. "We are thrilled to be part of the technical team moving this clean energy research forward in the rail industry. We are confident it will drive positive change that will make a real difference for generations to come." 

SoCalGas is advancing numerous low- and zero-carbon energy technologies similar to development of the fuel cell switcher locomotive in support of its goals towards net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its operations and delivery of energy by 2045. In March the utility committed to  reducing not only the company's own direct emissions, but also those generated by its customers to support a carbon neutral economy. 

SoCalGas' mission is to build the cleanest, safest, and most innovative energy company in North America. More information on the company's mission and climate commitment can be found at

About SoCalGas
Headquartered in Los Angeles, SoCalGas® is the largest gas distribution utility in the United States. SoCalGas delivers affordable, reliable, clean and increasingly renewable gas service to 21.8 million consumers across 24,000 square miles of Central and Southern California. Gas delivered through the company's pipelines will continue to play a key role in California's clean energy transition—providing electric grid reliability and supporting wind and solar energy deployment.

SoCalGas' mission is to build the cleanest, safest and most innovative energy company in America. In support of that mission, SoCalGas is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in its operations and delivery of energy by 2045 and to replacing 20 percent of its traditional natural gas supply to core customers with renewable natural gas (RNG) by 2030. Renewable natural gas is made from waste created by dairy farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. SoCalGas is also committed to investing in its gas delivery infrastructure while keeping bills affordable for customers. Over the past five years, the company invested nearly $7.5 billion to upgrade and modernize its pipeline system to enhance safety and reliability. SoCalGas is a subsidiary of Sempra  (NYSE: SRE), an energy services holding company based in San Diego. For more information visit or connect with SoCalGas on Twitter (@SoCalGas), Instagram (@SoCalGas) and Facebook

SoCalGas Logo (PRNewsfoto/San Diego Gas & Electric,Southern California Gas Company)


SOURCE Southern California Gas Company

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