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Alberta premier keen on Innisfail’s new train technology

Alberta rail transportation feasibility study will include a look at the groundbreaking hydrogen-powered locomotives being developed by Innisfail company.
Devin Dreeshen, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA and minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors, is excited Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is keenly interested in the new hydrogen-powered locomotive technology now being developed by Innisfail's Bilton Welding and Manufacturing. Submitted photo

INNISFAIL –  Premier Danielle Smith and the Alberta government are moving forward with a rail transportation feasibility study that will include the groundbreaking hydrogen-powered locomotives being developed by Innisfail’s Bilton Welding and Manufacturing.

The interest by the province into Bilton’s state-of-the-art technology is so high a special visit to the Innisfail company is now being planned by the premier’s office in partnership with the Town of Innisfail.

The feasibility study into future transportation options was highlighted in a mandate letter released last week by Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen, who is the minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors.

Dreeshen confirmed that Bilton’s current role in creating hydrogen-powered trains in partnership with Canadian Pacific (CP) “piqued” Premier Danielle Smith’s interest during talks last month with Town of Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay and town council members.

“They had talked about the building project and how many hydrogen locomotive engines they had built already and the additional ones they're continuing to build for CP,” said Dreeshen, who attended the breakfast meeting with the premier and council on June 17 at the Innisfail Golf Club. “That did pique the premier’s interest and the fact that’s in my mandate letter to work on expanding hydrogen trains going forward I don't think is a coincidence.

“It's great to be able to see a made-in-Central Alberta success story catch the premier’s eye and something that is going to be a province-wide priority going forward,” added Dreeshen. “It’s pretty exciting for central Alberta on that front.”

He said the feasibility study will take a look at the engines Bilton has built and how the technology can be expanded out beyond the scope of CP’s interests and into other rail opportunities.

“They will be used as the poster child going forward in this feasibility study of how we can grow and expand the use of hydrogen on our trains in Alberta and even across Canada,” said Dreeshen.

Most importantly, the premier’s office is working with the Town of Innisfail for a tour and first-hand look at what Bilton has created thus far.

“That's something we're working with mayor (Jean) Barclay in her office as well as Bilton and the premier's office to make sure that we can set up a tour with the premier as she's very keen to be able to see this made-in-Alberta success story, and how we can promote it as a government,” said Dreeshen, adding he believes there’s “room for everybody” with hydrogen-powered train technology.  “The demand for oil and gas in the next 10, 20, 50 years is going to be more every year than it has been this last year, and that's everything from construction products, energy, computers, plastics; anything you can dream of.

“Having these forecasts that are showing more and more use of oil and gas is something we need to be developing, but developing hydrogen technology and engines that can be shipped and used around the world, that's smart too,” said Dreeshen.

Barclay told the Albertan last week the hydrogen locomotive work being done by Bilton is a “once in a generation opportunity” the town has seized and was pleased the premier showed keen interest during the recent breakfast meeting.

“When I mentioned it that morning Premier Smith knew about hydrogen-powered locomotives in Alberta but didn't know that work was being done in Innisfail. She was extremely interested,” said Barclay. “She actually said she loves riding on trains, as do I. We were kind of having a bit of a laugh that we needed to get a ride on the hydrogen train.

“We’re looking forward to that happening at some time that fits everybody's schedule.”

Bilton has provided fabrication expertise and services to CP since the railroad’s Hydrogen Locomotive Program (HLP) began two and a half years ago.

The HLP has a goal of playing a leading role in decarbonizing the freight transportation sector; to successfully convert a diesel locomotive to a hydrogen-electric drivetrain with zero carbon emissions.

The rail company announced in late 2020 its plan to design and build North America’s first line-haul hydrogen-powered locomotive that would rely on cells and batteries to power the locomotive's electric traction motors.

Meanwhile, the Albertan reached out to Bilton for comment on the planned upcoming visit by the premier but a spokesperson said the company was declining comment at this time.

Last March it was announced Bilton had completed work on the second of three  hydrogen fuel cell-powered freight locomotives for CP.

Robert Bilton, president and chief executive officer of Bilton, said last April 1 at the annual Innisfail & District Spring Trade Show his company had successfully converted four train engines at his Innisfail plant and was working on a larger long-term contract with CP for orders up to 10 at a time.


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