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.