New port locomotives are efficient, expected to move more cargo

mjohnson@bradenton.comFebruary 26, 2014 

PORT MANATEE -- By next month, two new, high-efficiency railroad engines will be at work at Manatee County's port. They'll use up to 65 percent less diesel fuel than the port's previous engine, and are expected to emit 80 percent less nitrous oxide gas.

Think of them as the Toyota Prius of locomotives, except they cost $1.5 million each.

They are the first brand new locomotives to go to work on the port's 7 miles of track. They come online as Port Manatee negotiates to bring in more products that require train cars to move them between ships in the port's 13 berths and the CSX rail yard just off port property. The first one began operating in January. The second, expected to arrive next month, is en route from Indiana.

Both are N-Vironmotive 2GS-14Bs, built by National Railway Equipment Company.

The port had been operating on borrowed time for the past three years, pulling all train cars in its rail yard with a single engine purchased for $250,000 in 2010. That engine, built in 1958, replaced two older models that broke down almost simultaneously.

Buddy Neal, the port's yardmaster, is excited about the engines, and is quick to point out to that they pollute less than those previously employed. The computerized diesel-electric locomotives stay efficient by determining how much horsepower each engine's two, 700-horsepower diesel motors puts into pulling loaded cars. Much of the time, only one motor is in operation, he said.

The computers track maintenance, and even shut motors off when they haven't been throttled up or braked for 15 minutes. Previous locomotives would often run at idle all day.

Best of all, Neal said, they don't leak oil down their sides, or spurt it out their exhaust stacks. That means neither the engines nor the ground underneath them will need as much cleanup. Previously, port employees had to place absorbent pads underneath the engines to prevent oil from leaking into the ground.

"We worked with that old equipment for a long time, patching it together," said Neal, a 30-year

port employee who has worked at Port Manatee since shortly after graduating from Southeast High School in 1980.

The locomotives provide the link between ships at the port and the state's railroad system. About 8,170 cars loaded with phosphate for fertilizer, lumber, and boxes for Fresh Del Monte fruit moved in and out of port property last year. Either one of the engines may not travel more than 15 miles a day, but they are the only way to move rail-shipped, bulk products.

The engines never travel faster than 10 mph, the maximum speed limit for the port's rail.

Seven port engineers and conductors drive and maintain the locomotives. Their daily workload varies. On Monday, they drove 42 cars around the port.

The two engines arrive in anticipation of more cargo coming in from a widened Panama Canal, and potential reopening of trade relations with Cuba. But planning for their purchase goes back before a major uptick in trade was anticipated. Neal and port staff began applying in 2009 for grants to purchase the engines.

A federal Tiger II grant paid $2.5 million toward the purchase. The port and the Florida Department of Transportation each picked up about $264,000 of the purchase price.

The port earned about $121,000 from selling its previous engine, an 1,800-horsepower General Motors GP9. Seminole Gulf Railway, which runs a murder mystery train in Fort Myers, purchased the engine.

Port officials won't know exactly how efficient the engines are until they start to see the fuel bills for both. Last year, the port spent $92,000 to fuel its older, single locomotive. Neal expects the new engines to save about $46,000 off that fuel cost if they move about the same number of cars in 2014 as were moved in 2013.

The new engines are expected to have a service life of 40 years or longer.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.com.

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