Network Rail and several partners have begun working on development of a prototype battery-powered train.
The Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit (IPEMU) project is part of an industry study into the feasibility of using electric trains on non-electrified parts of the network in future. They would recharge at terminal stations and depots, or while running on electrified sections of the route.
The alternative of buying new diesel fleets is unattractive in the longer term because diminishing demand and the need to meet more stringent emissions standards will push up both purchase and fuel costs. Electric trains are faster, quieter, and more efficient, but it will take time to electrify the whole network, and on some branch lines a battery-powered solution might be more cost-effective. First, though, issues of battery capability, weight and volume need to be addressed.
The IPEMU project is intended to take the technology to a level that demonstrates it can successfully operate with acceptable performance and reliability. As that involves moving through the stages of modelling, testing and on-track trials to running in operational service, it requires the collaboration of train operator, train owner, infrastructure manager and the government as the franchising authority. Management of that collaboration is itself part of the project.
Funding is coming from Network Rail, the Enabling Innovation Team (hosted by the Rail Safety and Standards Board) and the Department for Transport. The industry partners are train operator Greater Anglia (owned by Abellio) and Derby-based train manufacturer Bombardier.
The project will use a Bombardier Electrostar train from Greater Anglia’s Class 379 fleet as a test-bed to determine future battery requirements and what kind of train might be needed. Bombardier will adapt the train and fit it with two different forms of batteries: lithium (iron magnesium) phosphate and hot sodium nickel salt, after both types have been through extensive lab testing.
The modified 379 will then undergo a variety of tests ‘off network’, including at the Old Dalby test track. If those tests prove successful, the train will be run on an electrified branch line on the Anglia route, yet to be chosen, with its pantograph down. This is so that if there is a problem, it can raise its pantograph, and collect power again. This running will be both in and out of passenger service.
Once the programme is complete, by the end of 2014, the unit will be returned to its unmodified state and run in normal service again.
Data gathered during the experiment will be used to determine what form any future independently powered electric multiple unit will take, whether a battery-only unit or hybrid.
Network Rail’s director of network strategy and planning, Richard Eccles, said: “If we can create an energy storage capability for trains, electric traction can be introduced to more parts of the network without the need to necessarily extend the electrification infrastructure. “As the principal funder and delivery manager, we have done a great deal of feasibility work before reaching this stage, both to define the outputs we seek from the trial and to build confidence in the project across the industry. “
David Clarke, Enabling Innovation Team director, said: “We see the IPEMU project as a good example of something that will work according to the R&D but no one will invest in without seeing a full-scale demonstrator. By supporting this programme we are helping to take innovation out of the lab and de-risk its potential introduction onto the railway.”