Learn how Norfolk Southern uses solar power to reduce fuel consumption.


This is a top-of-rail friction modification system. It applies a friction modifier to the top of the rail that is picked up by the wheels. It’s solar-powered run, has wheel sensors, and a special computer to control the application rate, but it’s that friction modifier to the top of the rail and then that’s picked up by the wheels and that reduces the lateral force that the — that the wheels impart on the track that would damage the track, and also gives us fuel economy by making the train go through the track easier. 

The reservoir contains about 20 to 25 gallons of friction modifier. There of course is the solar power system that powers it. There’s the sensors that come in and trigger the system to start pumping. And inside here we have a battery and we also have the computer which counts the wheels and controls the application rate. We can also come back and then check and see how much has been applied and when, and kind of do some tracking like that. 

Then through these — through these orange hoses, the material is pumped out and then ultimately up to the track and along this — we call it a bar, which squirts the modifier up along the top of the rail. It’s a, one thing, it’s a friction modifier. It’s not really a grease or an oil. We still want the trains to still be able to have the necessary adhesion to get across the rails and through the curves. So, we drop the friction to a certain level, but not as low as you would drop it with an oil or a grease. 

We still get the benefits but we still are able to get adhesion when we need to get the trains across the road. There are sensors, electrical sensors on the track that tell the system when to wake up when a train is going by and then it counts the wheels, the number of wheels that go by and then it squirts out a certain controlled rate of the modifier, be it, you know, one squirt every tenth of a second or every tenth wheel or something like that; and again, that is another parameter that we tweak and adjust for the certain conditions here. So, it’s pretty well self contained and a pretty smart, intelligent unit. 

They’re maintained by the local track supervisor and his trackmen and they have to fill up the reservoir with five or ten gallons of this friction modifier maybe every two to three weeks. It is something they look at on a regular basis. So, I would say every couple weeks or so they have to come by and check on it. My department, R&T, has been working on this probably for about four to — four or five years, and we have, I think actually, 100 or so of these that have been installed on the western part of the Virginia division, and we’re working up on the Pocahontas division, so it’s pretty well established technology and I know other railroads are using it, particularly Union Pacific out in California. And, we’ve got it pretty well under control and now we’re just trying to tweak it, optimize it, see where the most efficient places to install it would be. 

This is a Track 2012 project that has been tracked by — tagged by Track 2012 as one to think we have some fairly significant savings per operations on; depending on how many we put out and where their put, you know, we could potentially save millions of dollars we think in diesel fuel and we think there’s also significant savings in track maintenance as well. You want the train going down the track forward and any side to side movement and this will reduce that side to side force. That’s just tearing up your track and destroying your track structure. So, if you can reduce that, which this system does, also should save us on track maintenance costs as well.

[end of audio]