UNC Charlotte Researches Using NCTM Locomotive For New Propulsion System

Release date: 6/5/2017

(Updated 6-7-17)
CONTACT:  Mark Brown
          Information & Communication Specialist
          (704) 636-2889, ext. 240

A new chapter of passenger locomotive propulsion opened at the N.C. Transportation Museum this past April. Researchers from UNC Charlotte’s Lee College of Engineering met with industry experts and museum staff to discuss an innovative battery-powered engine.

It will become the “Prius of Passenger Rail" Those are the words of Ian Stewart of Rail Propulsion Systems (RPS) as he described the train that researchers from the College’s EPIC Transportation Energy Research Cluster are helping develop. RPS, in partnership with McDowell Engineering & Associates (MEA), wish to develop a cutting-edge battery-powered hybrid train — in other words, a “green” passenger train. A group of graduate students led by Drs. Shen-En Chen and Nicole Braxtan met with RPS and MEA at the North Carolina Transportation Museum (NCTM) in Spencer, NC on April 13.

RPS and MEA have a successful track record with locomotive emission reduction efforts on diesel-electric engines owned by the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division and used for the Piedmont passenger service between Raleigh and Charlotte. 

The museum will be the demonstration site for an innovative all electric HEP car that will replace one or more diesel generators currently providing electricity to the passenger cars.  This HEP system will be installed in an NCTM F40PH locomotive, retired by Amtrak in the early 1990s. The initial project will be small providing 600kW-hr. of energy storage for HEP power, with a goal to scale up to an all-electric unit with 3000 HP to be used on site and possibly applied to a passenger train consist were, along with the conventional main engine, will allow the train to produce 6,000 HP or more, with nearly no harmful emissions. This zero-emissions booster locomotive (ZEBL) will be ideal for future application to the commuter and light rail systems used within and between metro areas like Raleigh and Charlotte.

The meeting at the NCTM was the first of many on-site planning meetings with UNC Charlotte. The first of its kind in the U.S., this pilot project will be a multi-disciplinary effort in conjunction with the Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Departments at UNC Charlotte. NCTM features vintage planes and automobiles, in addition to an abundance of vintage locomotives. The museum exists on the grounds of historic Spencer Shops, once Southern Railways’ largest steam locomotive repair facility in the southeast. The significance of the site in the railroad history of North Carolina and the Southeastern US make it a fitting place to connect transportation history with the future of green locomotive propulsion.


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About the N.C. Transportation Museum

The N.C. Transportation Museum, located in historic Spencer Shops, the former Southern Railway steam locomotive repair facility, is located just five minutes off I-85 at Exit 79 in Spencer, N.C., and about an hour from Charlotte, Greensboro or Winston-Salem.  The museum is home to the largest remaining operational roundhouse in North America, and numerous structures that represent what was once Southern Railway’s largest steam locomotive repair facility in the southeast. The museum is part of the Division of Historic Sites and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. Learn more at www.nctrans.org.

About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources 

The N.C Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. NCDNCR's mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state’s history, conserving the state’s natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.

NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C.  Zoo, the nation's first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please call (919) 807-7300 or visit www.ncdcr.gov.

About The William States Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte

For more than 50 years, The William States Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte has been one of the finest engineering colleges in the Southeast. In the disciplines of civil and environmental engineering, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering and engineering science, systems engineering and engineering management, and engineering technology and construction management, they have been educating leading engineering professionals.

About EPIC

The Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC Charlotte serves as a state-of- the-art research center that provides education and applied research opportunities to students with energy related interests. Our industry-education partnerships unite students, faculty and industrial partners to collaborate on interdisciplinary research and learning.


UNC Charlotte is the fourth largest of the 16 universities within the University of North Carolina system. With enrollment approaching 29,000 students, UNC Charlotte is the largest institution of higher education in the Charlotte region.


About RPS and MEA
Rail Propulsion Systems (RPS) is a west coast based technology integration company dedicated to providing commuter rail agencies and short line railroads with low cost opportunities to improve the operations of their fleets.


McDowell & Associates (MEA) is a Professional Engineering and Consulting company offering Geotechnical, Environmental, and Hydrogeological Services in addition to Construction Materials Testing and Inspection Services.