Batteries to cut diesel use on London-Cornwall train service

An intercity passenger train will be converted to run on battery power for the first time in the UK, Hitachi Rail has announced, cutting diesel use on non-electrified lines by 20 per cent.

 Hitachi has signed an agreement with Eversholt Rail, owner of the 36 intercity express trains operated by Great Western Railway on the line between London and Penzance, to replace a diesel engine with batteries on one of this fleet.

The line is only partially electrified, with the majority of the 300-mile journey requiring diesel power. The Hitachi-built five-car trains on this route are bimodes, switching between electric and diesel operation as required.

Adding a battery will create an electric-diesel-battery hybrid train (tri-mode). Trials are expected to begin in 2022, to demonstrate that the innovation meets passenger service and safety standards.

On non-electrified sections of the route, the batteries will supplement the power of the engines to reduce fuel usage and carbon emissions by more than 20 per cent.

When travelling in and out of stations and surrounding urban areas, the train would rely on battery power only. This has the benefit of improving air quality and dramatically reducing noise levels, both for passengers and people living nearby.

GWR’s Intercity Express Train fleet currently calls at 15 non-electrified stations on its journey between Penzance and London, all of which could benefit from trains running on battery-only power.

Hitachi Rail will draw upon expertise from its Japanese owner and the support of its UK battery partner, Hyperdrive Innovation. These two companies, both based in north-east England, reached an agreement in July 2020 to create and develop battery packs for mass production at Hyperdrive’s HYVE facility in Sunderland.

Projected improvements in battery technology – particularly in power output and charge – create opportunities to replace incrementally more diesel engines on long-distance trains. Hitachi hopes to create a fully electric-battery intercity train that can travel the full journey between London and Penzance by the late 2040s, in line with the UK’s 2050 net-zero emissions target.

Jim Brewin, UK and Ireland country lead at Hitachi Rail, described the partnership as “an exciting opportunity to unlock new greener trains for passengers, reduce running costs for operators and cut carbon. Britain is in a unique position to become a global leader in battery trains.”

Mary Kenny, Eversholt Rail chief executive officer, said: “We are delighted to continue working in partnership with Hitachi to investigate the conversion of our Class 802 fleet to tri-mode by introducing battery technology. Eversholt Rail is committed to ensuring our fleets meet the UK Railway’s decarbonisation commitments.”

Only around 38 per cent of Britain’s railway is electrified, according to the latest Department for Transport figures, and progress on further electrification has been intermittent, with projects taking longer than expected and costing far more than budgeted.

Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Strategy, published in September 2020, recognises a need for 11,700 single-track kilometres of electrification, but recognises that some routes will never justify conversion and are likely to rely on battery or hydrogen trains.

In 2018, Vivarail demonstrated a battery train in Scotland and continues to work on this technology for minor routes with battery partner Hoppecke, but it is not looking at the kind of long-distance intercity service that Hitachi envisages.