At a time when development within the rail industry is gathering pace, battery powered trains are poised to make a comeback. Battery powered trains have been used for around 100 years, but expanded use has been held back by battery technologies.
Now, the first passenger train of its kind in over 50 years has recently undergone a five-week trial in a bid to prove the viability of more eco-friendly alternatives to diesel-powered locomotives.
Back in 2013, The Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit (IPEMU) came into force. It draws power from overhead lines and then lowers its pantograph to allow it to run on its batteries instead, so enabling it to run over non electrified lines. The challenge was in finding an effective energy storage system or battery.
2 years and much development later, the IPEMU will now run a weekday service between Harwich International and Manningtree stations in Essex.
Network rail has committed to reducing its environmental impact and running costs by 20% over the next five years. The battery powered train will not only help them to meet this commitment, but will also enable them to bridge gaps in services where it’s currently too expensive to install overhead electrification.
For those commuting to and from work every day, it’s not only the quieter smoother journey of a battery powered train that is the draw. It’s not even the fact that it has cleaner and greener credentials.
The most attractive thing is that when overhead power lines go down, the battery powered train can keep going; running on the power stored in the battery. No more sitting on a broken down train between stations. At the very least commuters should be able to get to the next station and get transport home.
Network Rail is due to produce a plan of which UK routes could benefit.
The IPEMU has been jointly developed by industry partners including train manufacturer Bombardier, train operating company Abellio Greater Anglia, and Network Rail.
The current vehicle is effectively a modified version of the 379 Electrostar, the train type currently being used on a number of routes including the Stanstead Express. However, it is anticipated that future IPEMUs will be designed as new trains. That’s not to say existing trains won’t be retrofitted. Much can be learnt from the current project in respect of retrofitting.