Sustainability features are becoming increasing critical for the developers of mining locomotives as a result of changes to regulatory environments.

GE is giving industry titan Caterpillar a serious run for its money in the field of mining locomotives by becoming the first to develop vehicles which comply with strict new emissions standards in the US.

The new trains developed by GE were designed specifically with sustainability in mind, and include an emissions reduction system to significantly reduce their carbon footprint while still retaining the same heavy, long-distance haulage capabilities required of standard mining locomotives.

GE already has units in operation in order to demonstrate the train’s capabilities, and expects to commence full scale production of the vehicles by the middle of 2015 – six months after new diesel engine exhaust regulations take effect in the US on January 1, 2015.

GE’s early development of a low emissions mining train will give it a major edge against chief rival Caterpillar, whose efforts in this area have been dilatory by comparison.

Caterpillar’s Electro-Motive Diesel Unit said production of its new freight locomotives will not be available until 2017, and that next year will only see the release of its demonstration models.

Caterpillar’s announcement comes as a major surprise given that one of the company’s primary areas of expertise is the development of huge, high-horsepower diesel engines for use by industry.

Its belated release of an emissions compliant mining engine could cost Caterpillar dearly, given that the new regulations are expected to give a major short-term boost to the freight locomotive market, which is notoriously prone to demand fluctuations.

Sales in the freight locomotive market are expected to surge this year to as much as $6 billion, with rail companies expanding their fleets in response to the new business created by the North American tracking boom, as well as the imminent introduction of stricter emission requirements.

GE already holds roughly two thirds of the US locomotive market, with analysts expecting this share to be further consolidated by the lead it has taken in low emission engines.