Iowa Northern's slugs cutting diesel emissions, reducing fuel consumption

WATERLOO, Iowa — The Iowa Northern Railway Company is growing its business at the same time it is decreasing the pollution its locomotives emit.

Last week the Cedar Rapids-based shortline railroad demonstrated the operation of its two newly converted railroad slugs, energy saving and diesel emission-reducing locomotive accessories, at its Waterloo Bryant Yard shops.

The Iowa Northern received $303,800 in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Clean Diesel Program through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to convert two locomotives into railroad slugs, which were placed in operation this month.

"Iowa Northern has initiated measures to improve air quality through reducing diesel emissions," said Karl Brooks, regional administrator for Region 7 of the Environmental Protection Agency. "Their investment highlights the work the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is doing in cutting pollution and improving energy use."

Iowa Northern President Dan Sabin said that a slug is a locomotive that has had its diesel engine removed.


"It looks like half a locomotive," he said.

The traction motors on the axles of the slug are intact just like any other locomotive, but the slug draws all its electrical power from the mother unit attached to it, said Bill McGee, assistant general manager of mechanical engineering, for Iowa Northern. The slug increases the locomotive’s pulling and breaking power.

"It can’t run without a mother, but when it does run it creates the same pulling capacity that another locomotive would have with a diesel engine," Sabin said. "Instead of two locomotives with two diesel engines generating emissions and burning fuel in the air, one locomotive is providing that power and allowing the slug to take the place of the second locomotive."

"This appeals to the EPA because it cuts diesel emissions and saves about 50 percent on fuel costs," said Brooks who took a ride on the mother-slug set with McGee.

The Iowa Northern project is expected to eliminate 220 tons of air pollutants, including 194 tons of nitrogen oxides, 10 tons of particulate matter and 14 tons of hydrocarbons.

"Pollutants from diesel engines can lead to serious health concerns, such as asthma and allergies and can also worsen heart and lung disease, especially for children and older adults," Brooks said.

Each year in Iowa, about 150,000 adults and 40,000 children have asthma, and statewide about 50 to 60 deaths, 12,000 hospitalizations and 50,000 emergency room visits are attributed to asthma and its effects, Brooks said.

"The Iowa Northern had a plan to use their engines more efficiently, but not the capital to get it done," said Mindy Kralicek, Iowa DNR air quality information specialist. "They jumped on the grant opportunity and submitted an excellent application. This is a fine example of how Iowa businesses can help keep our air healthy by looking at their operations and thinking in new ways."


Sabin said Iowa Northern’s railroad operations from Waterloo to Manly operate 24/7, and he would like to replace two of five locomotives on that train with two slugs.

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