Episode 107 - Rail Decarbonization Hits a Turning Point

Progress Rail is on a mission to zero emissions.

The locomotive manufacturer put the first battery-electric locomotive into service for a Brazilian mining company in 2020, and next year they’ll be hauling iron ore in Australia. Meanwhile, Union Pacific is adding 10 of these battery-powered rail vehicles to its fleet as part of the largest investment in battery-electric technology by a U.S. Class I railroad.

Beyond electric, Progress Rail (a subsidiary of Caterpillar) is working with Chevron to develop a locomotive powered by hydrogen fuel cells and collaborating with the Canadian National Railway to test renewable fuel blends, including biodiesel. It’s also developing “smart cruise control” that uses machine learning to optimize train performance and energy efficiency.

Self-described rail geek Michael Cleveland, Director of Advanced Energy at Progress Rail, talks about the company’s quest to lead the transition from diesel to fuel systems that promise to make trains cleaner, quieter, and more reliable.

Meet Our Guest

Director of Advanced Energy, Progress Rail, A Caterpillar Company

In this role, Michael is responsible for the vision around the future of locomotive technology and the energy transition. He has 11 years of experience in the rail industry, previously leading BNSF's battery electric and hybrid programs, where he was responsible for the development, testing, and deployment of not only locomotives, but also intermodal cargo handling equipment. Michael holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Austin College, and a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University.

Our Host


Innovation Strategist & Co-Founder, Brulte & Company

Grayson Brulte is an autonomous mobility advisor and consultant who provides strategic counsel and political insights to help clients navigate what’s next.

As an SAE strategic partner since 2017, Grayson brings his in-depth industry knowledge to host SAE Tomorrow Today. His unique perspective factors in economics, politics and technology into one-of-kind weekly conversations with innovators changing mobility and its impact on society.

Grayson is a thought-leader who regularly provides insights to publications including Bloomberg, Reuters, The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporter and Forbes. His written opinions and insights have been featured by organizations including the Consumer Technology Association in presentations to the Federal Trade Commission.

Listen to the full back catalog on your favorite podcast platform.