General Electric Co. (GE) and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT), the world’s largest locomotive makers, are rushing to develop natural gas-powered models in a potential shift from diesel’s six decades as the fuel of choice for railroads.
Three of the biggest U.S. rail carriers — Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A)’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC, Union Pacific Corp. (UNP) and Norfolk Southern (NSC) Corp. — are working with manufacturers on using gas as an alternative power source for freight trains. CSX Corp. is studying the technology.
Tapping the nation’s glut of gas as a transportation power source opens a new front in the global competition between GE and Caterpillar. Liquefied natural gas holds the promise of cutting railroads’ costs, curbing greenhouse-gas emissions and ushering in the industry’s biggest change in fuel technology since diesel displaced steam in the 1950s.