eHighway system to reduce truck pollution in California

August 20, 2014

The more things change, the more they remain the same; accordingly, overhead electric wires that have been powering trolleys and streetcars since the 19th century will now see them in use along Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Siemens’s eHighway system will electrify certain highway lanes using a catenary system (an overhead wire setup). This system was tested in Europe in 2011, and now it’s gaining a foothold in the U.S.

The system will be operational in the seaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by early 2015. Siemens and Volvo will install a one-mile, two-way catenary system and that will be used in conjunction with both electric and hybrid trucks.

How it works

Like trolley cars, the eHighway system uses overhead wires to draw electricity. Both use pantographs, an apparatus mounted on the roof that collects power by touching the overhead electric wires.

eHighway trucks first scan for a catenary system. The “current collectors” in these eHighway trucks ensure that vehicles can automatically link and unlink to the catenary system at any speed, so it is suitable for all traffic conditions. The power gathered by the pantographs is used by the electric engine and can even be stored on-board.

The trucks in the eHighway system are catenary-hybrid vehicles. Where there are no overhead electric wires, they automatically switch to using their diesel-hybrid drive systems.



Drastic situations call for drastic measures. “Southern California’s air pollution is so severe that it needs, among other strategies, zero- and near-zero emission goods movement technologies to achieve clean air standards,” says South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) executive officer, Barry Wallerstein.

A report commissioned by the SCAQMD found that catenary-hybrid vehicles “can simultaneously address emissions and fuel economy issues while providing operational flexibility at a similar or lower cost of ownership as other zero-emission technologies.”

Where it will be useful

The project will cost $13.5 million. The technology can be used in small cars, but for now it is being piloted in trucks. “As the first and second busiest container ports in the U.S., Long Beach and Los Angeles can benefit tremendously from the eHighway system, significantly reducing emissions from commercial trucks that normally contribute to much of the air pollution in this region,” says the president of Siemens Mobility and Logistics US division, Matthias Schlelein.

“These intricate logistical hubs need to meet increasing local and global demand for goods,” he continues. “the economic logic of the eHighway system is very compelling for cities like LA, where many trucks travel a concentrated and relatively short distance. Highly traveled corridors such as this are where we will initially see eHighway being applied.”


Light rail trains in US and Europe are moving away from catenary technology, ironically, due to expense, aesthetics, and high maintenance costs. These are issues eHighway will perhaps need to address before it is more widely used.

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Category: Infrastructure, Trends

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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