Previous Next

Priceless Protection

American Commercial Barge Line goes to great lengths to safeguard our nation’s waterways and the crews who work on them

When a towboat and barge routinely transport petroleum safely without a spill or injury, they build a track record that can be as valuable as the cargo they carry.

American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL) of Jeffersonville, Indiana, prioritizes being safe and environmentally sustainable. The marine transport company makes about 4,000 fuel transfers throughout the U.S. Gulf Coast and inland waterways each year and earns a long list of safety and environmental awards. 

“We have 2,000 mariners out there every day doing very high-risk work, and we’re very proud of our safety record,” says Bill Foster, senior director of vessel engineering. In fact, 74 ACBL towboats were recognized by the Chamber of Shipping of America’s Environmental Achievement Award in 2015 for operating at least two years with no spills. “We’re steadily growing that number,” adds Foster. “We’re always looking for opportunities to improve spill-prevention training for our towboat crews, and we’re also investing in tools and technology to improve the safety and efficiency of our vessels.”

To comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions and Coast Guard regulations, ACBL began upgrading and adding new vessels to its fleet. ACBL has its own shipbuilding capabilities through its manufacturing division, Jeffboat. Located in the same town as its parent company, Jeffboat ranks as the nation’s largest inland shipbuilder and the second-largest builder of barges.  

Over the years, Jeffboat built up ACBL’s fleet of towboats and barges with John Deere generator drive and auxiliary drive engines. ACBL then acquired more towboats and barges with John Deere engines in 2014, with its acquisition of American Electric Power (AEP) River Operations Group, an inland barge company based in Chesterfield, Missouri. 

Of ACBL’s 146 towboats, 81 operate with a set of generators ranging from 99 kWe to 195 kWe and powered by PowerTech™ 4.5L, 6.8L, 9.0L, and 13.5L engines. ACBL has multiple locations and sources generator sets from Superior Diesel, CK Power, and engines, inc., as well as a John Deere marine dealer, Allemand Industries. All four companies customize the generator sets to ACBL’s specifications.  

Recently, Jeffboat completed two new 24-meter (79-foot) towboats — American Power and American Strong — with twin 99-kWe generators driven by PowerTech 4045AFM85 marine engines. Jeffboat will also build two additional towboats with John Deere–powered generator sets later this year.  

“We’re constantly looking for ways to lower our emissions and improve fuel economy,” says Foster. “Fuel is our single largest operating cost. We burn about 100 million gallons (379 million liters) of fuel a year, so fuel economy is critical. That’s why John Deere engines are such a good fit. The engines are fuel-efficient and cost-effective compared to other engines on the market.” 

Foster says most John Deere-powered generators log about 4,300 hours each year operating in alternating shifts and will run nearly a decade before they are replaced.  “John Deere-powered generators have lasted three or four years longer compared to the (competitive engines) in the fleet. Other than just doing routine service, we can almost forget about them for about 10 years.”   

ACBL’s acquisition of AEP also added 80 tank barges with John Deere engines. 

ACBL now operates a fleet of 106 barges with John Deere engines — most of them radiator-cooled 6068HF485 auxiliary engines that drive centrifugal lift pumps for loading and offloading liquid cargo. 

Mike Poindexter, ACBL’s director of barge maintenance, says the John Deere engines offer two distinct advantages over some other diesel engines in the fleet. “We notice that the John Deere engines are quieter running. The engines also have an electric start, which we prefer over high-pressure hydraulic systems, which can be a safety concern. The electric starts are robust, they hold up, and they do a good job for us. We hired a John Deere dealer in Texas to remove some hydraulic systems and install electric starts on 25 (older) engines.”  

Poindexter, an ACBL employee for 40 years, says he’s proud of what ACBL is doing to safeguard the nation’s waterways and the men and women who work on them. “I truly feel like ACBL is a leader in safety innovation and stewardship. This is a company that is always looking to continuously improve equipment reliability, worker safety, and environmental safety while striving to go above and beyond to meet our customers’ needs.” 

Distributor: Superior Diesel in Rhinelander, Wisconsin;


Return to all press coverage

Our professional staff is ready to assist you with your drivetrain and diesel engine requirements in whatever market you serve. Our skilled engineers can custom design products to fit your specific application needs and our production team is experienced and well versed in application and assembly.