by Phil Marsh

Prototype battery-powered train trials begin

Published: 21st August 2014

Charging into the future with a battery powered train

A Greater Anglia Abellio Class 379 train, normally used on the Stanstead Express services and only a few years old, has been converted to operate under battery power. Why is this important? Because when the network-wide main line electrification schemes are completed in the next ten years, there will be a few branch lines left unelectrified so diesel trains will be required to run on these lines.

If a battery train can be made to operate reliably then these could run the last few miles on unelectrified branch lines saving money on electrification and providing diesel trains for these lines. Also when there is a problem with the overhead wires, or 3rd rail supply, a battery train could move itself out of the affected area reducing passenger disruption – always a good thing!

First for many years

The Class 379 is Britain’s first battery-powered train in the modern era and is on test at a short test track within the Bombardier rail works in Derby after being retrofitted with six battery rafts. If these short distance low speed trials are successful, the train will move to the Network Rail (NR) Rail Innovation and Development Centre in Nottinghamshire to enable a series of high-speed tests to take place at the later this year. This uses the former High Marnham freight line which crosses the East Coast Main Line near Retford.

Each battery raft fitted to the test train contains a battery box, isolation switch, power distribution control panel, battery charging inverter, batteries and battery monitoring system mounted within a purpose-built rig. Their creation follows the successful testing of several types of battery technologies, including lithium iron magnesium and hot sodium nickel salt. Other types of batteries will be tested by Bombardier in Germany.

They said

James Ambrose, senior engineer leading the project for Network Rail said; “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.”

“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.”

How will the tests shape the future?

The results of the tests will be used to determine what design of independently powered electric multiple unit will take, either completely battery powered or a mixture known as a hybrid train.

It is likely that any future independently powered electric train would be designed as a new train and a conversion from an existing one to minimise energy consumption, but the project will also provide useful information for retrofitting an existing train offering another option.

Who is behind the project?The project is called ‚‘The Independently-Powered Electric Multiple-Unit project‘ and is being undertaken by Network Rail, rolling stock manufacturer Bombardier, train operator Abellio Greater Anglia, technology partnership FutureRailway and the Department for Transport.

And for the technically minded, Bombardier’s Derby plant has installed six battery rafts on the four-car Class 379 25 kV 50 Hz EMU, which was originally built in Derby.

• Battery locomotives have been around for a 100 years and were used in munitions factories in World War 1 to avoid the risk of explosion from sparks using steam locomotives. The London Underground has a fleet of battery locomotives used on engineering trains when the power is switched off for trackworks.

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