March 24, 2024 - TRA Newswire -

The University of Texas at Austin is about halfway through a federally funded project to re-examine the economics of converting mainline railways from diesel-powered trains to electrified operations.

The project at UT-Austin is to be completed and sent to the Federal Railroad Administration in August.

Called "Cost and Benefit Framework for Modern Electrification Options", the FRA study project partners are the University of Texas at Austin, Tier 5 Locomotive LLC and Economist Jim Blaze. 

The study is looking at technical and economic barriers to railway electrification and will evaluate new approaches to operation and implementation that improve benefits and reduce costs, timelines, and risks.

Prior studies on electrification have generally focused on electricity vs. diesel costs but now there are other challenges such as climate and carbon reduction as well as battery powered locomotives that could run segments without an overhead wire (catenary). 

The study is also charged with developing a case study to show benefits and cost sensitivities of an electrified service. Developing financing options for a large scale project could be a daunting part of a future railway conversion or build-out enterprise.

There are no mainline electrified railway lines in Texas, only light-rail electrified passenger service in both the Dallas area and Houston proper. Still on the planning board is the Texas Central (Amtrak) proposed high-speed passenger rail corridor between Dallas and Houston, which would be an electrified 240 mile line to link the mega-regions with trains at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, an a Dallas-Fort Worth planned extension.

Electrified mainline railroad operations in the U.S. are now mostly confined to the Northeast Corridor between Washington D.C., New York and Boston. 

Globally, electrification of railway tracks has been constantly increasing in the past decades, accounting for nearly one third of total tracks around the world, according to a report issued by the International Energy Agency and the International Union of Railways.

The UT-Austin study began in September 2023. 

Photo credit: Alstom