Hitachi Rail announces plans to test battery-powered long-distance trains

Great Western Railway

In a UK-first, long-distance intercity trains running on battery power will trial on the Great Western Railway main line between the south west of England and London.

Manufacturer Hitachi Rail and rolling stock company Eversholt Rail have signed an exclusive agreement aimed at bringing battery power – and fuel savings of more than 20 per cent – to the GWR passenger service between London and Penzance.

Electric-battery intercity train

The ambition is to create a fully electric-battery intercity train that can travel the full 300-mile journey by the late 2040s, in line with the UK’s 2050 net-zero emissions target.

The partnership is looking at batteries replacing a diesel engine as a power source on an existing Hitachi-built five-carriage train – known as a bi-mode for its ability to switch seamlessly between electric and diesel power.

The line between the south west and London is only partially electrified, with the majority of the route requiring diesel power. Adding a battery creates an electric-diesel-battery hybrid train (tri-mode). 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 a fifth.

“This is an exciting partnership to develop technology that can make rail travel more sustainable across the UK’s network”

Whereas 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 reduce noise levels, creating a more pleasant environment for passengers and people living nearby.

“We are committed to reviewing emerging technologies such as battery power and assessing feasibility for services and rolling stock on the GWR network,” said Matthew Golton, interim managing director, GWR.

Hitachi Rail said it will draw upon market-leading expertise in Japan, and the support of its battery partner, Hyperdrive Innovation. The two North East-based companies reached an agreement in July 2020 to create and develop battery packs for mass production at Hyperdrive’s facility in Sunderland.

Battery technology

The projected improvements in battery technology – particularly in power output and charge – create opportunities to replace incrementally more diesel engines on long-distance trains.

“This is an exciting partnership to develop technology that can make rail travel more sustainable across the UK’s network. Battery powered trains will support us in our battle against climate change and poor air quality and improve the overall passenger experience,” added Chris Heaton Harris, UK rail minister.

“As we continue to build back better, developments like this are major stepping-stones towards achieving the UK’s 2050 net-zero emissions target.”


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