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Battery project could pave the way for electric trains

Network Rail and partners are working on a prototype battery-powered train that is part of a study into the feasibility of using electric trains on parts of the network.

This could see trains running on battery power over non-electrified lines, before charging at terminal stations, or using their batteries to run over diesel lines in electrified parts of the railway.

In a statement, Richard Eccles, Network Rail’s director of network strategy and planning said, ‘We see this project as an important element of our strategy of increasing the electrification of the rail network, delivering improved sustainability whilst reducing the burden on the taxpayer.

‘If we can create an energy storage capability for trains, electric traction can be introduced to more parts of the network without the need to necessarily extend the electrification infrastructure.’

Funding is coming from Network Rail, the Enabling Innovation Team, which is hosted by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), and the Department for Transport.

David Clarke, director, Enabling Innovation Team at RSSB said, ‘Energy storage on trains is a typical example of a development that’s good for passengers, taxpayers and the long term future of the railway but…it is difficult for individual businesses to make the business case to invest in the technology. To help prove the business case we are funding up to 30 per cent of the technology demonstration.

‘We see the [Independently Powered Electric Multiple-Units] IPEMU project as a good example of something that will work according to the R&D but no one will invest in without seeing a full scale demonstrator. By supporting this programme we are helping to take innovation out of the lab and de-risk its potential introduction onto the railway.’

Working with Derby-based train manufacturer Bombardier and operator Greater Anglia, the project will use one of the operator’s Class 379s as a test-bed to determine future battery requirements and what kind of train might be needed.

This train will be adapted by Bombardier and fitted with lithium (iron magnesium) phosphate and hot sodium nickel salt batteries that will undergo a series of lab tests before being fitted to the train.

The modified 379 will then undergo a variety of tests ‘off network’, including the test track at Old Dalby in the East Midlands. If successful, the train will then run on an electrified branch line on the Anglia route, which has yet to be chosen, with its pantograph down. This is so that if there is a problem, it can raise its pantograph, and collect power again. This running will be both in – and out of – passenger service.

The programme is expected to be complete by the end of 2014.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Can hear it now - Network Rail regrets the delay of the 8.15 to Waterloo due to a battery failure. We are investigation why it was not plugged in last night.....

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  • Seems like a reasonable step to take and I like the idea of extending the use of electric traction in our rail system.

    Though I do wonder what the environmental impact or quarrying, transporting, processing, manufacturing, delivering to site, maintaining and eventually decommissioning and recycling: lithium (iron magnesium) phosphate and hot sodium nickel salt batteries will be?

    Somehow I have the feeling that producing synthetic alcohols from renewable sources (including apparently CO2) is a more sustainable and technically apt solution.

    One day the energy densities, handling and environmental credentials of batteries will be better than hydrocarbons but I get the sense that this pancea is like fusion - useful but always 20 years off.

    My instinct is that batteries will never make it big time but that some other technology will come along when we least expect it and simply supersede them.

    I wonder if anyone has ever considered the energy savings that are made of vehicles running with ever diminishing fuel levels in their tanks over those carrying batteries around whose weights broadly remain constant?

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  • The Williams Formula One team are converting coaches and buses by using flywheel Energy Recovery Technology that was developed for Formula 1. The rule change to remove F1 refueling removed the space for this system in F1 car. It has been shown to be more effective than battery systems & super-capacitors on coaches. Train bodies used a Leyland Coach body in recent past and they probably have more space between rails and passenger compartment to carry any energy recovery system

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  • It's actually a company called Flybrid, which was spun-out of Williams F1 (if you'll pardon the pun).

  • "Can hear it now - Network Rail regrets the delay of the 8.15 to Waterloo due to a battery failure. We are investigation why it was not plugged in last night....."

    very good, brain (sic). make a joke about sandwiches and the tea being cold while you're at it, there.

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  • Can somebody tell me why this exercise is worth pursuing?

    The most fuel efficient energy source on rails is a diesel engine! The technology is tried and tested, and is generally very reliable (certainly more so than the overhead lines on the ECML in my experience).

    I accept that electric trains are quieter, and also cheaper and easier to maintain, but the losses in the electricity generation and distribution network mean that more energy is lost than is actually used to drive the train!

    Storage batteries are only about 70% efficient at best, so these will only add to the problem. Likewise electric cars, which simply move pollution from city centres by creating even more pollution elsewhere.

    Such schemes will only be viable when batteries and electricity distribution networks are 100% efficient, and/or when our electricity is generated from 100% renewable sources.

    We are being warned that the UK's electricity network faces meltdown within the next few years anyway, so why make matters even worse?


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  • "
    Can somebody tell me why this exercise is worth pursuing...
    electric trains are quieter, and also cheaper and easier to maintain". QED?

    "more energy is lost than is actually used to drive the train" - all the energy used by diesels isn't diverted into noise and heat?

    "Storage batteries are only about 70% efficient" - how efficient are diesel engines?"

    "the UK's electricity network faces meltdown " - it'll be fine at night when these things can be charged.

    Batteries' limitations are pretty well-known. I guess the trial will establish whether those are too great in this context.

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  • The recent development Lithium-sulphur batteries with three times the capacity of Lithium ion or iron/manganese will make battery diesel locomotives a cheaper option for replacing diesels on non-electrified tracks. Battery powered vehicles produce far less CO2 and pollution than even the most eco-friendly internal combustion engine.

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  • Nigel, Electricity is far more cleaner than diesel. Diesel is filthy overall. BTW, a fair percentage of electricity is generated cleanly. Power line loses are not that low and generators are efficient. Stacks have scrubbers. Diesel, its refining, storage and transportation is very dirty overall. Also electricity accelerates trains fast clearing lines. As you mentioned electric trains are cheaper to make and maintain.

    Mark, Tesla are building a high-tech factory in the USA to make these advanced batteries.

    These battery trains are welcome as battery/third-rail trains on the Borderlands Line from Wrexham to Bidston in Birkenhead - extending the trains into Liverpool's underground section - being incorporated into the Merseyrail network. The Welsh have been wanting this line electrified for decades. Each station can have a third rail to give the energy intensive start from dead stop acceleration and recharging batteries while at the stations - every little helps. While running through Birkenhead and Liverpool's 3rd rail underground section the batteries can also be charged. A combination of batteries and supercapacitors could be used to claw back kinetic energy. Flybrid say their mechanical KERS system is cheaper and more effective at reclaiming kinetic energy than supercapacitors and say it can be used effectively on electric trains between the wheels and electric traction motor. It needs some good testing first.

    Electric/battery trains are currently being used in Japan.

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