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Batteries included: Network Rail begins on-track trials of prototype battery-powered train

Tuesday 12 Aug 2014


Britain’s first battery-powered train is being put through its paces in a series of on-track trials – a move which could ultimately lead to a fleet of battery-powered trains running on Britain’s rail network which are quieter and more efficient than diesel-powered trains, making them better for passengers and the environment.

Network Rail has successfully completed the retrofitting of its first battery-powered train and has now embarked upon a programme of trials at a test track in Derby, which will culminate with a series of high-speed tests at the Rail Innovation and Development Centre (RIDC) in Nottinghamshire later this year.

Although the project is in its very early stages, Network Rail and its partners believe battery-powered trains could be used to bridge gaps in otherwise electrified parts of the network or be used on branch lines where it would not be cost effective to install overhead electrification equipment, bringing the additional benefits of making the new trains cost-effective and sustainable.

Using an Abellio Greater Anglia Class 379 unit, which normally operates using electricity drawn from overhead power lines, Network Rail and its industry partners – including Bombardier, Abellio Greater Anglia, FutureRailway and the Department for Transport who are co-funding – have installed six battery rafts to the full train at Bombardier’s facility in Derby, where the first on-track test runs are now taking place.

Network Rail’s senior engineer leading on the Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit (IPEMU) project, James Ambrose, said: “Over the next five years, Network Rail has a target to reduce the cost of running Britain’s railway by a further 20 per cent. At the same time, we are always looking for ways to make the railway greener too. This project has the potential to contribute significantly towards both those goals.

“It’s still early days for what is an exciting and experimental project that tackles these two key objectives, but we’re thrilled to begin the next phase of testing and look forward to running the train on-track in live, high-speed tests.”

The battery rafts fitted to the Class 379 unit contain a battery box, isolation switch, power distribution control panel, battery charging inverter, batteries and battery monitoring system, all mounted within a bespoke, purpose-built rig. Their creation follows the successful testing of several types of battery technologies, including lithium iron magnesium and hot sodium nickel salt.

James added: “Although we’ve retrofitted the Abellio Greater Anglia Class 379 unit with lithium iron magnesium batteries, we continue to test other possible solutions so we can gather as much information and comparison data as possible for future development.”

Additional battery tests are now underway at the Bombardier Mannheim facility in Germany. On-track trials of the Abellio Greater Anglia Class 379 are now underway at a test track in Derby, and high-speed running has been scheduled at the RIDC towards the end of the year.

Notes to editors

The partners working on the IPEMU project are:

  • Network Rail
  • Department for Transport
  • FutureRailway
  • Abellio Greater Anglia
  • Bombardier

Data gathered during the experiment will be used to determine what form any future Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit (IPEMU) will take, be it a straight battery unit or hybrid.

Any future IPEMU would most likely be designed as a new train and not an adapted unit, to minimise energy consumption but this project will also provide useful information for retrofit.

About FutureRailway: FutureRailway is a cross industry collaboration between Network Rail and RSSB to help the whole industry deliver the Rail Technical Strategy. It incorporates the activities of the former Enabling Innovation Team, which was set up by the rail industry to accelerate the uptake of innovation. Our approach is to: understand the challenges that industry faces; connect potential innovators with these challenges; and, where necessary with potential funding. The team reports to the Technical Strategy Leadership Group (TSLG) and is supported by the Rail Delivery Group as well as the Department for Transport.

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About Network Rail
Network Rail owns, manages and develops Britain’s railway – the 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and viaducts, and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations (the largest of which we also run). In partnership with train operators we help people take more than 1.6bn journeys by rail every year - double the number of 1996 - and move hundreds of millions of tonnes of freight, saving almost 8m lorry journeys. We’re investing £38bn in the railway by 2019 to deliver more frequent, more reliable, safer services and brighter and better stations.

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