Meet LA’s Hybrid Trolley Truck: Part Trolley Bus, Part Big-Rig

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It’s no secret that Los Angeles has some of the worst air pollution of any city in the U.S., especially around its ports, where long lines of trucks wait idling to fill up with cargo from docking ships.

But a new project from German electronics company Siemens could see that change forever, thanks to a modern application of an idea that goes all the way back to 1882.

Meet the hybrid eHighway ELFA truck from Siemens. 

By erecting overhead power lines along freeways similar to those used in cities across the U.S. by trolley buses and trams, the system would enable specially-built diesel-electric hybrid trucks to operate in all-electric mode when connected via overhead pantographs. 

Using computer-controlled software, any truck fitted with Siemens’ eHighway system would be able to automatically locate and track overhead power lines, ensuring that where possible, it used electricity as the primary source of power. 

The initial project will take place along sections of freeway that lead to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, known for its mile-long queues of idling big-rigs waiting for a load. 

If successful, the project could then be rolled out elsewhere. 

While the proposed eHighway does nothing to quell congestion woes, it does have cost on its side. 

At an estimated $5-6 million per mile, Siemens’ system costs around one-nineteenth the cost of a traditional electrified railroad. 

And because diesel trucks are so expensive to run, California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District says haulage firms could see a return on investment of between three and five years based on the additional cost of buying an ELFA hybrid truck, thanks in part to heavily reduced fuel and maintenance bills.

Unlike railroads, the system also allows trucks to easily reroute or change plans as circumstance requires, ensuring deliveries are made in a timely fashion. 

With one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 set to come from friend freight transportation, the eHighway project from Siemens could, if successful, change the face of freeways around the world forever.

It also opens the intriguing possibility of a day when certain electric cars could recharge their battery packs from a cantilever and overhead wire system as they drive along.

As for the history part? The first known application of trolley bus technology happened in 1882, when Dr. Ernst Werner von Siemens ran  a converted landau carriage from a 550-volt direct current overhead wire. 

It seems fitting that Siemens, the company founded by the very same person, is looking to give the 130-year old concept a modern twist.

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