A fleet of 22 new locomotives – the first of their kind in the world – has transformed the haulage efficiencies for one of Australia’s leading grain businesses, CBH Group.

Cummins’ high horsepower QSK60 and QSK78 engines are the driving force behind the new standard and narrow gauge locomotives, built by MotivePower in the United States. A further three new locomotives are on order.

CBH, a farmer-owned cooperative controlled by nearly 5000 grower-shareholders in Western Australia’s sprawling grain belt, invested over $175 million in its new fleet of 22 locomotives and 574 wagons which went into service in 2012.

Escalating freight rates and the need to move more tonnes to port more efficiently forced CBH to search globally for a new rail partner. “We wanted to keep freight rates in check,” says Mike Poore, freight contracts manager for CBH.

“The rates had gone up 38 percent over two seasons while fewer tonnes were being delivered to port.”

With annual receivals of around 10 million tonnes at 197 country sites, CBH wanted a better deal for its growers by revitalising the way grain is transported.

No stone would be left unturned to achieve this goal. A key part of the plan was for CBH to buy its own rolling stock for the first time.

American company MotivePower – an industry leader in the design and manufacture of diesel-electric locomotives – won the tender to build the 22 units for CBH, all powered by Cummins QSK engines, engines that are hitting productivity targets in the harshest operating environments in the world.

Project teams from CBH also visited a number of countries in search of an operator for its trains – a search that resulted in Watco winning the business from five other bidding companies.

One of the largest short haul railroad companies in the United States, Watco set up operations in Western Australia early in 2012, ready to provide a comprehensive rail logistics service to CBH including train planning and scheduling, tracking, maintenance and inventory control.

“The old adage, ‘walking in the customer’s shoes’, obviously hasn’t been forgotten by Cummins.”

At the same time MotivePower was building the first of the new locomotives at its headquarters in Boise, Idaho.

As the trains began to roll in Western Australia’s grain belt, the fuel efficiency of the first engines in service, QSK60s, clearly became evident – a key reason Cummins power was chosen in the first place.

In fact, there were a number of reasons Cummins QSK engines were selected:

  • Proven reliability and durability in the toughest applications around the world, particularly mining
  • Unrivalled service support
  • Outstanding fuel efficiency while meeting stringent US emissions standards, and
  • Excellent power-to-weight ratio, a crucial factor in meeting axle load limits for the locomotives on the different gauge tracks.

Bruno Ottaviano, maintenance manager for Watco, says the high-speed, four-stroke QSK60 and QSK78 engines are “different animals” to the big, slow, two-stroke “clunkers” still used in locomotives and which emit noticeable emissions.

“The fuel economy of the QSK60 engines, in particular, is outstanding,” he says, “and they run very cleanly.”

A key feature of the QSK60 engines in the locomotives is their modular high-pressure common rail fuel system which achieves high fuel efficiency, eliminates visible smoke across the operating range, and significantly reduces noise and vibration. In fact, the engine is 80% quieter under load and at idle.

Ottaviano says that Cummins’ service support has also been very good. “The old adage, ‘walking in the customer’s shoes’, obviously hasn’t been forgotten by the company,” he emphasises.

Half the CBH locomotive fleet is powered by the Cummins QSK60 engine, a 60-litre V16 pumping out 2700 hp, while the other half is powered by the QSK78, a 78-litre V18 unleashing 3300 hp. The three new locomotives on order have the QSK60.

Both engines move massive weights around the clock in the mining industry, and CBH’s haulage task is no different.

With two locomotives coupled to 60 wagons, the QSK60 engines are moving 4,400 tonnes at speeds up to 110 km/h. The QSK78- powered locomotives are pulling up to 72 wagons and 5,800 tonnes at similar speeds.

“We’ve learned a lot about the grain business and what is really vital to our customer in its around-the-clock freight task,” says Victor Lekhtman, Cummins South Pacific business manager for rail. “As the result of the collaboration between our engineering and service teams, the CBH locomotive fleet is delivering exceptionally high uptime and much lower freight cost.”

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Bruno Ottaviano…“The fuel economy of the QSK60 engines, in particular, is outstanding.”