Erie, Pennsylvania, is 7,000 miles and a world away from Karachi, Pakistan. Seated on the south side of Lake Erie, the Pennsylvania town is green and full of historic brick homes. Karachi is a bustling metropolis located on the edge of a desert. But there’s one thing Erie and Karachi have in common: trains pulled by GE locomotives.
In January, cranes at Port Qasim, just outside of Karachi, lifted seven monster engines off a ship from the United States onto waiting rail flatbeds. The brand-new, 135-ton machines were bound for a local GE site for their final commissioning before being handed over to Pakistan Railways. They also marked the first delivery under GE’s $200 million contract with Pakistan Railways for 55 Evolution Series locomotives.
Known as EVOs, the 4,500-horsepower locomotives developed within GE’s Ecomagination program are the result of a 10-year, $400 million investment into making trains that can go farther and faster on less fuel. They were assembled by workers at a century-old factory with storied history in Erie. (It was converted to produce tanks during both world wars.) Their beating hearts, powerful diesel engines, came from another GE plant in Grove City, Pennsylvania, some 50 miles away.
The deal is an example of a business strategy GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt calls localization that allows the company to accelerate growth by solving local problems. “We will always be a strong American manufacturer,” Immelt said last year. But “in the future, sustainable growth will require a local capability inside a global footprint.”
The locomotives for Pakistan, for example, are a critical piece of Pakistan’s ongoing freight and passenger rail infrastructure overhaul under the government’s Pakistan 2025 plan. The plan aims to transition Pakistan from one of the world’s top 10 emerging economies into one of the top 25 global economies through modernization of the country’s education, manufacturing, infrastructure, energy and transportation.
Trains are a key part of the plan. Most of Pakistan’s rail lines were built before 1950, and there are significant gaps in service, especially in rural and remote areas. Today, 96 percent of the country’s passenger and freight traffic moves over roads. Pakistan wants to increase total rail traffic from 4 percent to 20 percent. To do that, the 2025 blueprint calls for increasing rail speeds from the current 95 kilometers per hour to at least 120 kilometers per hour; doubling tracks on the main line sections; increasing line capacity with a modern signaling system; and establishing north-south and east-west corridors, along with a separate freight corridor.
The upgrade also requires tough and efficient locomotives that can handle Pakistan’s unforgiving mountains and deserts. The EVO comes with a powerful 12-cylinder diesel engine with a digital brain that enables it to smartly apply its brawn. The brain is connected to a slew of sensors and digital feeds throughout the locomotive to capture data. By sensing which wheel needs the most power at any given time and redirecting it accordingly, the system helps keep the train more firmly planted on the tracks, which means it can go faster and haul more cargo. One locomotive can pull the equivalent of 170 Boeing 747 jetliners and can replace two of the current locomotives in Pakistan Railways’ fleet.
All that data gathering also helps Pakistan Railways better forecast and predict maintenance needs by tracking the “health” of thousands of individual pieces of the locomotives. The company saves money by replacing parts only when they’re about to break down as opposed to on a set replacement schedule.
GE customized the EVOs that will be used in Pakistan to help the country meet its goals. Pakistan Railways wanted 20 percent more cooling around the engines so the trains could run at full capacity even when the engine temperature climbed to 131 degrees Fahrenheit in the unforgiving Thar desert outside Karachi, said Kamal Shivpuri, senior project manager in Erie. GE engineers were able to accommodate that by extending the cooling system capacity with enhanced radiator and cooling fan capability, and meeting the weight and clearance requirements.
Forty of the 55 locomotives will be used exclusively to haul coal. The others will haul freight. More locomotives will be delivered throughout the year (another nine left Erie in early March). Each of the Pakistani EVOs are custom painted green with white stripes — the colors of the country’s flag.
Pakistan is just one of many foreign destinations for the Erie locos. They’re also hauling freight in Kazakhstan, South Africa and Mongolia, among other places.