Cattle-based fuel runs Okla.-Texas passenger train

Amtrak begins an experiment that uses cow fat to supply 20 percent of the power for one of its engines

Published April 20, 2010 5:55PM (EDT)

Amtrak began an experiment Tuesday to let cows produce horsepower.

Officials from the railroad and the Oklahoma and Texas transportation departments launched a yearlong test to see whether beef-based biodiesel can efficiently run the Heartland Flyer passenger train between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, and also reduce emissions.

"We can join energy (and) agriculture and protect the environment," Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Terry Peach said.

Tallow from Texas cattle -- fat often used in soap or animal feed -- is supplying 20 percent of the fuel for the 3,200-horsepower engine, the rest is standard diesel. Previous engine tests showed that those running the B20 mixture produced less carbon monoxide and fewer particulates and sulfates.

Biodiesel can react with rubber, however, so checks must be made for unusual wear that could damage the engine.

"At the end of this 12-month trial we'll go back and look at the engine assemblies and gaskets and valves and make sure there's no impact," said Roy Deitchman, Amtrak's vice president for environmental, health and safety issues. The railroad also will collect exhaust data.

In ceremonies at the Sante Fe station in downtown Oklahoma City, government and railroad officials announced the test as part of this week's Earth Day events. A number of officials then boarded the train for a similar announcement later Tuesday at Fort Worth.

The Federal Railroad Administration gave Amtrak $274,000 to conduct the test with Oklahoma transportation officials. State governments help fund daily service to Oklahoma City, Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley and Ardmore in Oklahoma and to Gainesville and Fort Worth in Texas.

"We use about 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year to move 84,000 people on the Heartland Flyer," Deitchman said. "Twenty percent of that is now biodiesel."

Biodiesel can be more expensive than traditional fuel but it reduces demand for oil and can result in lower carbon emissions.

By Kelly P. Kissel

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