The Anonymous Widower

Could There Be A Battery-Powered Class 319 Flex Train?

In the advance copy of the brochure for the Class 319 Flex train, that Porterbrook have sent me, there is a few comments about using batteries on the train.

This strong statement is Porterbrook’s view on a battery-option for the train.

A large battery option was shown to be heavy, would require a lot of space and have long recharge times.

But Porterbrook are also quoted in the article in Rail Magazine, which is entitled Flex… and flexibility, as saying.

Batteries are definitely doable, but rail will have to overcome the current range limitations for traction power. We think traction battery technology will give you a range of around 20km to 30km [12-18 miles] before needing recharging, and this is not enough for most operators.

But a lot of uses of a battery train are for very short distances.

  • Moving a train in a depot.
  • Moving a train to an electrically-dead siding for overnight parking.
  • Moving a train to a safe evacuation place like the next station after an electrification failure.
  • Moving a train over an electrically-dead section of line.
  • Running on very short branch lines without electrification.
  • Running to a temporary station.
  • Remote start-up of the train.

As the Class 319 train is a DC train, fitting batteries would not need an expensive voltage converter.

Electrically-Dead Stations

The new Health and Safety  regulations as regards electricity in stations are causing Network Rail serious problems and great expense with electrification.

A train with a limited battery option may offer significant safety advantages in that if it had a range of six mile or so on full batteries then stations could be built without electrification.

Third rail systems are often broken in stations for a short distance, so that staff can safely cross the tracks. They are also broken at level crossings.

Most trains including all Class 319 trains have contact shoes at both end of the train and can bridge a short gap.

An onboard battery would allow the trains to bridge larger gaps.

The problem with overhead electrification is that the pantograph must be lowered and raised at the correct times. But this is one of those problems that could be done automatically and safely by systems linked to GPS.

There’s certainly a patent with the name of Pantograph Control Via GPS.

No overhead wires in a station with a rich architectural heritage, may lead to easier and more affordable electrification.

Think Hebden Bridge!

Very Short Branch Lines

Several  branch lines that have been proposed for electrification are less than six miles in length.

  • Brentford – 4 miles
  • Greenford – 2.7 miles
  • Henley – 4.5 miles
  • Levenmouth Rail Link – 5 miles
  • Windsor – 2.5 miles

So if 20 to 30 km. (12-18 mile) range mentioned by Porterbrook is serious, a Class 319 Flex train with batteries instead of diesel engines should be able to handle short branch lines with ease, provided that the batteries could be charged on the main line or in an electrified bay platform.

As electrificastion procedes more opportunities will present themselves.

This Google Map shows the distance between Leeds Bradford Airport and the Harrogate Line.

The Harrogate Line is likely to be electrified in the next tranch of electrification, as most of the other suburban lines from Leeds are already electrified.

The distance between the Airport and the Harrogate Line is probably about a mile, so Class 319 trains fitted with an affordable battery could manage this line.

Battery Technology Will Improve

It should be born in mind that battery technology will get better, thus range will increase for a battery if a given physical size.

A guaranteed twenty mile range would bring these routes into the list of possible routes for a Class 319 train with batteries.

  • Braintree – 6.4 miles
  • Coventry to Nuneaton – 10 miles
  • Marlow – 7.25 miles
  • Windermere – 10 miles

Braintree is interesting, as it needs a passing loop and the cheapest way to do this would be to remove the electrification, update the track and signalling and use an independently-powered train.

Battery Technology On Other Trains

Simpler battery systems like this will be able to be applied to a large number of modern electric trains on UK railways.

Note that I haven’t included the Alstom, CAF, Hitachi, Siemens and Stadler trains running now or in the future.

Will they sit on their hands and watch the other manufacturers’ trains get more efficient? You bet they won’t!

It is also worth noting that some of these trains, unlike the Class 319 trains, have regenerative braking, which could store their braking-generated energy in the battery, rather than returning it to the electrification.


Porterbrook have let a big genie out of the bottle.




March 22, 2017 - Posted by | Energy Storage, Transport | ,


  1. I must start off saying that I know nothing about trains beyond that you sit in one and it takes you somewhere and it has horrible toilets. However the idea of battery operated trains jumped out at me, from a safety point of view, because (it is my understanding) so many lives are lost on electric lines because they carry life electricity and some people suffer serious serious depressive illness; and our record on mental health is a disgrace. Plus some people are born stupid and behave stupidly around train lines.

    I don’t know if there would be a way of the train generating its own electricity, don’t know enough about it. Although an image has just come into my head of people peddling on static bikes to generate electricity for the train. It would save a fortune in gym fees for them, and also the time going to the gym would take. Perhaps I should patent this idea. 😉

    Comment by nosnikrapzil | March 22, 2017 | Reply

  2. I told you I don’t know much about trains 😉

    And there was my going to file a patent for static bike powered trains

    Comment by nosnikrapzil | March 22, 2017 | Reply

  3. […] I wrote Could There Be A Battery-Powered Class 319 Flex Train?, not much information had been published on the Railbaar, but a Railbaar could be another tool to […]

    Pingback by The Class 319 Flex Train And A Railbaar « The Anonymous Widower | April 12, 2017 | Reply

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