Last week's poll: Powering Britain’s trains after diesel

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Diesel powered trains make up around 29 per cent of the UK’s rail fleet but by 2040 they’ll be gone altogether, so what form of energy will keep trains on track?

According to 43 per cent of our 730 poll respondents, full electrification is the way forward, followed by 29 per cent who favoured a batteries and hydrogen combination.

Last week’s poll coincided with a report from IMechE advocating electrification of rail, or the use of hydrogen where electrification is neither economically nor technically feasible. In total, only 12 per cent of poll participants chose the pure-hydrogen option offered by the poll. Of the remaining vote, seven per cent went for batteries and third rail, and nine per cent opted for none of the above.

Challenging the idea that hydrogen is a zero-carbon option, Andy Duffell said: “Almost all hydrogen on the market is produced by steam reforming fossil fuels, so has all the carbon intensity of that fuel stock. It can be made in a zero-carbon way, but generally isn’t, and the large amounts of electricity required to do so would be more efficiently used directly.”

For some, a combination of technologies would help usher a new era in clean rail transportation, including Trevor who said: “Upgrading the UK’s train stock would provide a golden opportunity for a serious amount of discretionary electricity generation/consumption as a far more affordable alternative to electricity storage ‘solutions’. Scenario: Hybrid electric/gas turbine train, the latter fuelled by LNG stored in a very well insulated tender. The train runs on electricity where the lines are electrified and at times when there is surplus power. If renewables start to drop out, or the train is moving onto a non-electrified route it switches to the gas turbine. Finally, if demand really begins to outstrip demand stationary trains in sidings can function as short-term supplementary generators, feeding power back into the grid via the very same rail electrification infrastructure that powers the train in ‘electric’ mode.”

Looking beyond the rails, Another Steve said: “Electrification would be fine, but we need to sort out the UK power grid first. If we keep loading more and more drains onto the system without a reliable baseline generation capability we’re going to hit problems – pretty soon.”

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