January 9, 2024 - TRA Newswire -

Union Pacific has started installing hydrogen fuel-cell generators as a backup power source at Gulf Coast crossings, in case major weather events force a power outage on the electric grid. 

The deployment of the fuel-cell generators is replacing gas-powered generators that keep railroad crossing signals and gates operational to ensure continued safe movements when bad weather hits, especially in hurricane-prone areas. 

UP is not alone in seeing this new technology’s value. It's reported that the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) is considering installing over 100 more fuel cells at crossings along its evacuation routes thanks to their reliability, sustainability and ecological benefits.

"Historically, these generators have been gas-powered, but last year we began testing units with hydrogen-powered fuel cells as an alternative," according to John Boone – General Director-Signals. "Hydrogen is derived by separating H2O into its individual elements – hydrogen and oxygen – via electrolyser technology. This entirely renewable energy supply is one of the only zero-emission fuel sources on the market."

"Union Pacific is able to mobilize back-up generators at a moment’s notice to any location on our system where they’re needed," according to Boone. The typical gasoline-powered generators used had an output of approximately 325 lbs. of CO2 every 24 hours. Hydrogen fuel-cell generators, on the other hand, output 0 lbs. of CO2, according to UP. Their only emission is water vapor created when the hydrogen recombines with oxygen in the atmosphere. Using hydrogen generators will help Union Pacific reach its science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26% by 2030.

Union Pacific installed its first seven hydrogen fuel cell generators in February 2023 and has installed 60 more since then on routes where hurricanes are common. These 67 locations will potentially remove up to 150,000 pounds of CO2 emissions from the railroad network each year.

Photo credit: Union Pacific