New trains touted as energy-efficient; 26 to be rolled out on Morris/Essex Line by 2012.

Saying it will reduce fuel costs and carbon emissions, New Jersey Transit officials unveiled the first dual-powered locomotive car in North America during a ceremony at Newark Penn Station Wednesday morning.

At least 26 of the locomotives, which can switch from diesel fuel to electricity, will be added to the commuter agency’s fleet by the end of 2012. The first will be added to the Morris and Essex Line, before moving to other non-electric train lines across the state. Train lines in Monmouth and Ocean Counties are likely to also receive top consideration for the new locomotives.

“We want to get the most bang for our buck,” said Kevin O’Connor, head of NJTransit’s rail operations, about the deployment schedule.

According to NJTransit spokesman Dan Stessel, the $310 million project will use Bombardier locomotives that can utilize overheard electric lines. The locomotives, which each cost $8.5 million, are the first of their kind to be used in North America; training for engineers and mechanics will be done at the transit agency’s mechanical complex in Kearny. Stessel added that NJTransit’s board is planning to exercise an option that will add another nine locomotives to the order.

O’Connor said trains on the Morris and Essex Line west of Dover are most likely to first receive the dual-powered locomotives. Lines to the west, including Hackettstown and Mount Olive, are predominantly powered by diesel trains; the dual-powered locomotive will allow trains to switch to electric once they reach the electrified track in Dover. O’Connor said the North Jersey Coast Line west of Long Branch will also be considered for the first rounds of deployment for the non-electrified track near Bay Head.

O’Connor said eastbound trains from Morris County, as well as Warren and Sussex counties on the Montclair-Boonton Line will switch from diesel to electric at the Montclair State University stop. He said the new locomotive will allow passengers from the northwestern part of the state to reach Hoboken without changing trains.

O’Connor said the Raritan Valley Line servicing Union and Somerset counties will likely not see the dual-powered locomotives in the first round, since the current diesel trains can continue through to Newark Penn Station, where passengers switch trains to complete their commute into New York City. He said the dual-powered locomotives theoretically allow trains to transfer seamlessly to electric tracks—a challenge that has derailed the Raritan Valley Line from being a one-seat ride to Manhattan. But he added that the congested Hudson River tunnels can’t handle more traffic, so Raritan Valley Line riders will still have to make the change in Newark.

Stessel said that when the dual-powered locomotive was first selected in 2008, it was scheduled to be part of a proposed ARC Project that would ease tunnel congestion by adding a third train tunnel under the Hudson River. Last year, Governor Chris Christie canceled the ARC Project, citing cost overrun concerns and what he said was a lack of federal investment in the project, along with concerns over the project having trains leave commuters in a new station below the Post Office, a block away from New York Penn Station.

Stessel said that after Christie’s decision, NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein decided to proceed with the program because of its earth-friendly and cost-effective potential. With Amtrak discussing the Gateway Project, which would continue the third tunnel under the Hudson, Stessel said the new locomotives could be utilized if that project is completed.

“If there is a new tunnel built under the Hudson River, these can be used to bring one-seat service,” he said.

Jimmy Gee, the head locomotive engineer for NJ Transit, said training will take place in two-day sessions for engineers, with the first day spent in the classroom and the second test-driving the new locomotive. The locomotive is controlled by a touch screen panel and hand controls, including hand brakes and accelerators. Gee said the switch from the diesel to electric takes between 90 seconds and two minutes and will not be felt by passengers. He said lights will not go off during the power switch, which is controlled by the electric panel.

Stessel said that other dual-powered locomotives in North America do not use the overhead lines. He said the locomotive is common with European transit agencies, adding that the Agence metropoliaine de transport, the commuter transit agency for the Montreal region of Quebec, has also placed an order for this locomotive.

The new locomotive contains only one overhead connection to wires instead of the two found on the current electric locomotive. Gee said this is due to the diesel equipment inside the locomotive, which includes two diesel engines. In addition, Gee said the locomotive does not contain the traditional “dead man’s switch” inside the cabin, but instead has other equipment in place to provide automatic breaking if the engineer is unresponsive. He said this includes automatic alarms that go off if there is no action by the engineer and if the engineer does not respond to the alarm the brakes go into effect.

O’Connor said that the new trains will allow for less downtime in the event that there is a problem with electric wires on electrified tracks, with the train being able to switch to diesel. He said this would not be able to occur in the event an overhead wire is blocking the track or if electric only trains are stopped in front of the dual powered train.

Reaction from commuters waiting in Newark Penn Station were mixed to the new locomotive equipment.

“I think it’s great, if it’s going to reduce carbon emissions,” said Jessica Bayles of Ramsey.

Marcelo Schnettler, a Jersey City resident and engineer, said he thinks it is a move in the right direction, but he sees it as a “stop-gap” move and would prefer a complete move toward electric trains.

“It is an interim step in the long run,” he said.

At the unveiling ceremony, NJ Transit officials kept focused on the benefits of the new locomotives.

“This will be great for fuel conservation,” Gee said.

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