September 22, 2023

DOE-developed rail car for spent nuclear fuel undergoes final testing


This week saw some developments in the rail car manufacturing space:

Specially designed rail car for spent nuclear fuel could be cleared for use by 2023’s end

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy says a specially designed, 12-axle rail car that would carry spent nuclear fuel could be ready for operational use by the end of this year.

DOE has been busy conducting final tests of the Atlas rail car, which is designed to transport spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to disposal sites. The federal agency has been developing the Atlas rail car — as well as the accompanying buffer cars and rail escort vehicles (REV) that would travel with the Atlas rail car — for 10 years as part of a $33 million project aimed at replacing the aging fleet of escort vehicles. DOE collaborated with the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program on the project.

The Atlas rail car meets the Association of American Railroads’ highest safety standards, DOE said. 

The final test — a 1,600-mile round-trip journey between Pueblo, Colorado, and Scoville, Idaho — simulated a full-sale shipment of spent nuclear fuel by using steel test weights instead of radioactive cargo, DOE said. It involved not only the Atlas rail car but an REV, two buffer rail cars and two Union Pacific locomotives. 

DOE collected data from the final test and as soon as that data can be analyzed, documented and granted conditional approval by the AAR Equipment Engineering Committee, the Atlas rail car will be ready for operational use. 

“This milestone underscores the Department’s dedication to advancing the safe and secure transportation of radioactive materials, including spent nuclear fuel,”  Patrick R. Schwab, DOE’s Atlas railcar project manager, said on a DOE webpage about the final test. “Through the successful completion of the test and the Atlas railcar project, we have delivered a capability for the Department to effectively transport spent nuclear fuel to future DOE storage and disposal facilities, filling a key role for successful operation of a nuclear waste management system.”

DOE will use the rail cars to support emergency responder training, as well as help with efforts to find locations for interim federal storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.

Thermo King unveils low-emissions, temperature-controlled slimline rail unit 

Minneapolis-based Thermo King has unveiled the Advanced S-DRC slimline rail unit, a temperature-controlled rail unit for cargo rail and intermodal applications. 

The rail unit, which will replace the SLXi-DRC unit, uses an S-Series engine that meets the emission standards of the California Air Resources Board for ultra-low emission transport refrigeration units. Because of this feature, the rail unit should be compliant with emission standards set by any of the 50 states.

“The Advancer S-DRC is another example of Thermo King’s commitment to delivering smart, sustainable temperature-control solutions that help customers transition fleets to reduce their environmental impact and be compliant with the changing regulations in California,” Sam Doerr, Thermo King’s trailer portfolio leader, said in a news release.

This latest model is different from the older one because of improved fuel efficiency as well as the utilization of a control system that enables precise temperature management, Thermo King said. The rail unit also uses solar panels, has a 15-pallet capacity and allows for easy transitions to over-the-road transport. 

The unit also has TracKing telematics that give customers data on performance and temperature monitoring. In addition, the telematics provide rapid alarm detection and security alerts that can notify customers when the doors are opened, Thermo King said.

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The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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