Around the world, high-speed rail has become a major asset in improving transportation standards, commuting efficiency, green energy consumption, and more. In the United States, limitations such as property boundaries and challenging topography have prevented the development of similar rails, but the future may still hold potential for the integration of advanced train systems.

The Long Island Rail Road has recently begun testing battery-operated trains, the first to do so in the United States. In Europe, battery-powered trains are the standard, and by taking this initiative to identify whether similar models will function optimally on U.S. railroads, the Long Island Rail Road could help inspire widespread change in standards of locomotion.

Unique Advantages of Electric and Battery-Operated Trains

One of the most prominent advantages of battery-operated trains is a drastic decrease in both fuel consumption and harmful emissions. Already, trains that use a blend of diesel fuel and electricity have reported fuel savings of 10 to 15 percent. Equipping trains with rechargeable batteries to replace fuel dependency would increase fuel savings, making for a more cost-effective and environmentally sound system.

A Danish study from 2019 found that the air quality on trains is drastically altered depending on what the locomotive uses for energy. Researchers found that diesel trains may expose passengers to up to six times the amount of black carbon and 35 times more ultrafine particles than electric trains. Not only do battery-powered trains reduce carbon emissions, but they are also presumed to be healthier and safer for passengers.

Another significant benefit to battery-powered trains is efficiency and expediency. Diesel-fueled trains have a limited ability to travel due to the recurring need to stop and refuel. Trains equipped with rechargeable batteries may be able to travel greater distances before needing to stop and recharge; by charging the batteries on electric lines and using battery power on non-electrified tracks, trains can prolong the amount of time between full charges and increase the distance they can cover in a single trip. What this means for passengers is a decreased need to switch trains due to refueling needs, more efficient transportation, and reduced pain points for travel.

What the Long Island Rail Road’s Initial Test Could Mean for the Future of Transportation

In testing battery-operated trains on the Long Island Rail Road, researchers are striving to identify whether battery and electric power is a practical alternative to diesel fuel. Researchers are investigating the actual amount of time and distance a train can run on battery power, how long it takes for the batteries to recharge, where the batteries could be located for optimal performance, how much power trains need to cover long distances or scale hills, and more.

Learning about these aspects will help researchers and transportation experts make educated decisions about locomotive systems and standards. Improving the efficiency and emissions of trains could also lead to the development of high-speed rail lines that are better suited to the geography of the United States by accounting for energy conservation and innovative solutions.

The Long Island Rail Road is taking a great stride toward a future of efficient, economical, and environmentally-conscious commuter transportation. In order to acquire and assess sufficient data, this trial period may last several years, but gathering essential information to make the best decisions is just part of the process. By tackling big questions and taking these initial steps to identify whether battery-powered trains are an appropriate alternative to diesel-fueled trains, the Long Island Rail Road may pave the path for other railroads and locomotive designers, and manufacturers, encouraging further development and broader integration of similar models.