Rail energy audit is a bright idea

2 min read

A prominent scientist this week warned against too much doom-mongering when it comes to the issues of global warming, climate change and other environmental impacts.

Prof Mike Hulme of the UK's Tyndall Centre made the point that if the language used by experts in the field is too alarmist, the public's reaction will be to throw up its hands in despair and decide that as we are all doomed anyway, there's not much point in taking the empties to the bottle bank.

In fact, the environmental lobby wants us all to do our bit in our everyday lives by not leaving the TV on standby, sorting the plastic from the tins, and in countless other ways.

We are told that these simple things, multiplied across millions of homes, can make a real difference.

It's interesting to see the same argument made with regard to an entire industry. In this issue's Viewpoint, Alan Constable of consultant Interfleet sets out ways the rail industry could make a huge difference to its energy consumption and save millions of pounds into the bargain.

Better energy efficiency will need to be designed into future train models, so some of the potential improvements identified by Constable will take years to become a reality.

Others, however, are in the same ball park as remembering not to leave the light on when you go out to the shops.

According to Interfleet, the heating and air conditioning systems of trains are sometimes left on when they are idle and empty overnight - surely the equivalent of leaving the fire on downstairs while the whole household is upstairs in bed? And even when trains are in service, rolling stock shows a propensity to be alarmingly inefficient. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has sweltered in a carriage on a blazing hot day with the heating going full blast, or shivered in their cold seat while icicles gather on the window.

Some relatively straightforward control systems - or even just tweaking the thermostat - could make a big difference to energy consumption and, more importantly, passenger experience.

It is not just the train systems that need adjusting, however. According to Constable, better training of drivers could result in trains being run in a more energy-efficient fashion.

In total, Interfleet claims these short-to-medium term measures could save about 15 per cent of the UK's rail traction energy. For example, the state-of-the-art Meridian trains used on some lines apparently use 77 per cent more energy for their lighting than the model they replaced. Now, there were certainly many drawbacks to the old inter-city trains, but you were hardly groping around in the dark when you boarded one. So why the need for the extra lights?

Interfleet reckons that a combination of advanced lighting technology and reversion to the levels of on-board brightness we used to accept as normal could, on its own, shave some £4m a year from energy costs.

These are staggering figures. If correct, and if they are replicated across other sectors, they suggest that the battle for energy efficiency needs to begin not in the home, but in our major industries.

Andrew Lee, editor