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Zero Emission Hydrogen Locomotive Pilot – West Sacramento

Picture of the future Sierra Northern Railway Zero Emission Switcher Locomotive at the Port of West Sacramento. The new hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen storage will be placed in the middle of the locomotive, which will replace up to 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year.

Advanced transportation technologies play a critical role in meeting climate goals and fostering innovative regional economies

Sierra Northern Railway will be building and testing a new hydrogen fuel cell locomotive at the Port of West Sacramento that will demonstrate how hydrogen-fueled switching locomotives improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase the quality of life for surrounding communities

The new zero-emission switching locomotive will use advanced hydrogen technology to replace a diesel locomotive. There are more than 260 switcher locomotives that operate in California-currently all powered by diesel. This hydrogen switching locomotive will be the first of its kind, proof of concept project by Sierra Northern Railway, and will feature hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen storage, and battery and control technologies that are much more environmentally friendly than diesel. If proven successful, hydrogen switchers could revolutionize the locomotive industry.

What is a switcher locomotive?

A switcher locomotive, also called a switching locomotive, operates within rail yards and is used to assemble and disassemble trains short distances-similar to a tugboat. Because switchers stay in a small area, reducing switching locomotive emissions will immediately improve regional air quality and in the long term, reduce ozone levels.

Once the new hydrogen-fueled switcher locomotive is completed, it is estimated to replace up to 10,000 gallons of conventional diesel fuel per year. The demonstration of hydrogen switcher will lead to improvements in air quality, as well as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and odor that will benefit the residents of West Sacramento, as well as the wildlife that surrounds the area.

The project

The purpose of this project is to convert an existing diesel locomotive into a zero-emission hydrogen-fueled locomotive. The project team will demonstrate and validate the hydrogen switcher technology which will establish a platform for widespread commercialization in the near future. The potential market for hydrogen locomotives in California includes more than 260 switcher locomotives.

As part of this project, Valley Vision is conducting community outreach to determine how the new and cleaner locomotive will affect the surrounding area. As well, Valley Vision will analyze the data pertaining to diesel switchers and will determine if it would be feasible to convert the remaining diesel switchers in California to hydrogen.

Funding for this project was made possible through the California Energy Commission. Sierra Northern Railway is the technical lead and has partnered with GTI as the formal applicant to the California Energy Commission. In addition to Valley Vision, other technical partners are Railpower Tech LLC, Ballard Power Systems, Optifuel Systems LLC, Velocity Strategies, Southern California Gas Company, and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

Should you have any questions, please contact Grace Kaufman at

Legal Notice

This document was prepared as a result of work sponsored by the California Energy Commission. It does not necessarily represent the views of the Energy Commission, its employees, or the State of California. Neither the Commission, the State of California, nor the Commission’s employees, contractors, or subcontractors makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability for the information in this document; nor does any party represent that the use of this information will not infringe upon privately owned rights. This document has not been approved or disapproved by the Commission, nor has the Commission passed upon the accuracy of the information in this document. “2022 Valley Vision. All Rights Reserved.”

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