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Preheating of shunting locomotives

Software trick saves diesel and cuts emissions

03/2016 - Until recently, the drivers themselves were responsible for the necessary preheating of their locomotives. But now, with the intelligent connection between a remote controller for the preheater and the existing dispatching system, large quantities of diesel fuel can be saved – bringing the DB Group one step closer to its environmental objective.

Diesel shunting locomotives are the workhorses of the rail freight transport business. Without them, freight trains could not be put together, arranged in sequence or prepared for service. Unlike electric locomotives, however, these diesel locomotives need a particular kind of attention before they enter service: they must be brought up to the operating temperature by heating the engine coolant to a temperature of 45 degrees Celsius using a preheater.

Depending on the outside temperature, this process can last as long as one hour. Previously, the drivers at DB Cargo had to program the preheater for the next journey when stabling the locomotive. This involved asking the responsible dispatcher for the time of the next operation. This meant that any subsequent daily changes in the train composition could no longer be taken into account, which is why shunting locomotives were frequently stabled with incorrect programming. The consumption of diesel fuel was correspondingly high.

Die leisen, umweltschonenden Mehrmotor-Diesellokomotiven der Baureihe 245 für den Regionalverkehr im Allgäu.
Deutsche Bahn AG

Remote controller initiates preheating

New communication technology now enables the preheating phase to be controlled remotely. A diesel locomotive equipped with this technology receives the next operation time via GSM mobile connection and then calculates itself how long it needs to reach operating temperature.

The respective operations of the diesel locomotives are controlled via the existing “Cargo Disposition Vehicles” system (CDIF). This system lists all the locomotives with their operation and idle times. The system knows which locomotive is located where, when the next job will arrive and when longer breaks are planned.

Dispatch and remote control interconnected

In order to use the remote control effectively, it is necessary to bring together the two systems. The dispatching system determines when any locomotive must be ready for operation. All that is needed now is to connect to the remote control system. When the operations planning system notifies the locomotive of the next operation time, the preheater in the vehicle is activated on time to get the locomotive ready at the right time – not too early or too late.

After a collaborative design phase with the customer, DB Systel was able to implement and introduce the required interfaces in just three months. This interface has now been running since April 2015, when only 15 vehicles were initially involved. Since then, more than 220 locomotives have been equipped with the new communication technology. It is anticipated that before the end of this year about 450 DB Cargo diesel locomotives will be operating with the new system.

Saving of diesel fuel and reduction in emissions

Integration of the systems enables a considerable amount of money to be saved. In the final configuration, the customer, DB Cargo, thanks to this simple trick, will consume around half a million litres fewer of diesel fuel per year. The shorter running times for the preheating units will also extend the maintenance intervals and reduce wear, thereby achieving further savings.

The connection of the systems, however, has more than just a financial impact. The emission of harmful CO2 exhaust fumes will also be reduced. This makes one other plan easier to implement: the DB Group is edging closer to its goal, as part of the DB 2020 strategy, of cutting its CO2 emissions worldwide by 20 percent by the year 2020, compared to 2006 levels.

Thus, a simple and quick solution, the intelligent linking of an existing system with a new technology, enables a considerable amount of money to be saved – and the environment benefits from it too.