The Anonymous Widower

Testing Begins On Midland Main Line Electrification

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Rail Magazine.

  • From the article, it looks like the first part of mechanical testing has been completed as planned and unpowered pantograph runs have been performed at up to 110 mph.
  • It does seem to me, that this thirty  miles of electrification has avoided the troubles that have plagued similar projects in recent years.

Perhaps the good progress on this electrification, is making the government think again about early electrification of all of the  Midland Main Line

In Hopes Rekindled Of Full Midland Main Line Electrification. I showed how battery electric Class 810 trains would be able to work the route.

This was my conclusion of that earlier post.

It appears that both the Nottingham and Sheffield services can be run using battery electric Class 810 trains.

  • All four diesel engines in the Class 810 trains would need to be replaced with batteries.
  • The route between Clay Cross North Junction and Sheffield station, which will be shared with High Speed Two, will need to be electrified.
  • Charging facilities for the battery electric trains will need to be provided at Nottingham.

On the other hand using battery electric trains mean the two tricky sections of the Derwent Valley Mills and Leicester station and possibly others, won’t need to be electrified to enable electric trains to run on the East Midlands Railway network.

Will it be the first main line service in the world, run by battery electric trains?

There was one thing, that wasn’t available, a month ago, when I wrote that post – A charging system for battery electric trains, that could be installed at Nottingham.

In Vivarail’s Plans For Zero-Emission Trains, I report on Adrian Shooter’s plans for Vivarail, which are outlined in a video by Modern Railways.

Ar one point he says this   see about Vivarail’s Fast Charge system.

The system has now been given preliminary approval to be installed as the UK’s standard charging system for any make of train.

I may have got the word’s slightly wrong, but I believe the overall message is correct.

So could we see a Hitachi Class 810 train using Vivarail’s patented Fast Charge system at Nottingham?

In Interview: Hitachi’s Nick Hughes On Driving Innovation In Rail Propulsion, Nick Hughes of Hitachi is quoted as saying.

Rail is going to become increasingly digitised and integrated into other sectors involved in smart cities, mobility-as-a-service and flexible green grid. Therefore, Hitachi Rail won’t be able to stay at the forefront of innovation by its self. This is why we are focused on building partnerships with other like-minded, innovative, clean tech companies like Hyperdrive Innovation, Perpetuum and Hitachi group companies such as Hitachi ABB.

Does Vivarail fit that philosophy? In my view, it does!

This Hitachi infographic gives the specification of their Regional Battery Train.


  1. The range on battery power is 90 km or 56 miles at up to 100 mph.
  2. Class 810 trains could be converted to battery electric trains by replacing the diesel engines with batteries.
  3. As the electrification has reached Kettering. there is only 55 miles between London St Pancras and Nottingham without electrification.

I could see Class 810 trains running between St. Pancras and Nottingham on delivery, provided the following projects have been completed.

  • Hitachi have been able to give the Class 810 trains a range of say 60 miles on batteries.
  • Hitachi have modified their trains, so they can be recharged by a Vivarail Fast Charge system in fifteen minutes.
  • Vivarail have installed a Fast Charge facility at Nottingham station.

Network Rail are planning to extend the electrification from Kettering to Market Harborough, which would reduce the distance without electrification to under 50 miles. This would make running battery electric trains between London St. Pancras and Nottingham even easier.

Expanding The Network

If I am putting two and two together correctly and Hitachi have turned to Vivarail to provide a charging system or a licence for the use of the technology, I am sure, it would be possible to create a comprehensive network of battery electric trains.


  • Hitachi should be able to squeeze a sixty mile range at 90-100 mph from a battery-equipped Class 810 trains.
  • Market Harborough and Derby are about 47 miles apart.
  • Derby and Sheffield are about 36 miles apart
  • Sheffield and Leeds are about 48 miles apart
  • Corby and Leicester are about 41 miles apart.

Vivarail Fast Charge systems at Derby, Leicester and Sheffield would enable the following routes to be run using battery electric trains.

  • London St. Pancras and Sheffield via Derby – Fast Charging at Derby and Sheffield
  • London St. Pancras and Leeds via Derby and Sheffield – Fast Charging at Derby and Sheffield
  • London St. Pancras and Sheffield via the Erewash Valley Line – Fast Charging at Ilkeston (?) and Sheffield
  • London St. Pancras and Leicester via Corby – Fast Charging at Leicester


  1. The only extra electrification needed for the initial network would be between Kettering and Market Harborough.
  2. The Class 810 trains would all be identical.
  3. The Class 810 trains might even be built and delivered as battery electric trains
  4. Trains would also charge the batteries between London St. Pancras and Market Harborough, between London St. Pancras and Corby. and between Leeds and Wakefield Westgate.

The network can be extended by adding more electrification and Fast Charge systems.


The technologies of Hitachi and Vivarail seem complimentary and could result in a fully electric main line train network for East Midlands Railway.



October 19, 2020 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Microwaves Could Turn Plastic Waste Into Hydrogen Fuel

This headline from this article in The Times could be the headline of the day!

Although thinking about it, it wouldn’t be a good idea to put all your plastic waste in the microwave and switch it on. It might catch fire or even worse create lots of hydrogen in your kitchen, which could be followed by a mini-Hindenburg disaster in the kitchen.

These are the introductory paragraphs.

From the yellowed bottles in landfill to the jellyfish-like bags clogging the oceans, plastics pollution is an apparently intractable problem.

Yet, chemists lament, it shouldn’t be. Within this waste there is something extremely useful, if only we could access it: hydrogen. Now a British team of scientists believes it has found a way to get at it, and do so cheaply, thanks to tiny particles of iron and microwaves.

If their system works at scale they hope it could be a way of cheaply converting useless plastic into hydrogen fuel and carbon.

Don’t we all want to believe that this impossible dream could come true?

Some Background Information

Some of the things I talk  about will be technical, so I will have a bit of a preamble.

Hydrogen; Handling And Uses

Because of pre-World War Two airships, which tended to catch fire and/or crash, hydrogen has a bad reputation.

I used to work as an instrument engineer in a hydrogen plant around 1970. To the best of my knowledge the plant I worked  in is still producing  hydrogen in the same large building at Runcorn.

Hydrogen is one of those substances, that if you handle with care, it can be one of the most useful elements in the world.

It is a fuel that burns creating a lot of energy.

The only by-product of hydrogen combustion is steam.

It is one of the feedstocks for making all types of chemicals like ethylene, fertilisers, ammonia, pharmaceuticals and a wide range of hydrocarbons.

Hydrogen is a constituent of natural gas and in my youth, it was a constituent of town gas.

Hydrogen and hydrocarbons are involved in the manufacture of a lot of plastics.

In the future, hydrogen will have even more uses like making steel and cement, and powering railway trains and locomotives, and shipping of all sizes.


According to Wikipedia, hydrocarbons are compounds consisting entirely of atoms of hydrogen and carbon.

In a kitchen, there are several hydrocarbons.

  • If you cook by gas, you will probably be burning natural gas, which is mainly methane, which is a hydrocarbon
  • Some might use propane on a barbecue, which is another hydrocarbon.
  • I suspect you have some polythene or polyethylene, to use the correct name, in your kitchen. This common plastic is chains of ethylene molecules. Ethylene is another hydrocarbon.
  • There will also be some polypropylene, which as the name suggests is made from another hydrocarbon; propylene.

Hydrocarbons are everywhere


I used to work in two ICI divisions; Mond at Runcorn and Plastics at Welwyn Garden City

  • The forerunners of ICI Mond Division invented polyethylene and when I worked at Runcorn, I shared an office, with one of the guys, who had been involved before the Second World War. in the development of polyethylene.
  • Plastics Division used to make several plastics and I was involved in various aspects of research plant design and production.

One day, I’ll post in this blog, some of the more interesting and funnier stories.

Many plastics are made by joining together long chains of their constituent molecules or monomer.

  • Ethylene is the monomer for polyethylene.
  • Propylene is the monomer for polypropylene.
  • Vinyl chloride is the monomer for polyvinylchloride or PVC.

So how are the chains of molecules built?

  • Polyethylene was made by ICI. by applying large amounts of pressure to ethylene gas in the presence of a catalyst.
  • They used to make polypropylene in large reaction vessels filled with oil, using another catalyst.

I suspect both processes use large quantities of energy.


catalyst is a substance which increases the rate of a chemical reaction.

Judging by the number of times, I find new catalysts being involved in chemical reactions, the following could be true.

  • There are processes, where better catalysts can improve yields in the production of useful chemicals.
  • There is a lot of catalyst research going on.

Much of this research in the UK, appears to be going on at Oxford University. And successfully to boot!


It should be noted that Velocys was spun out of Oxford University, a few years ago.

This infographic shows their process.

This could be a route to net-zero carbon aviation and heavy haulage.

The beauty is that there would need to be little modification to existing aircraft and trucks.

Oxford University’s Magic Process

These paragraphs from The Times article explain their process.

The clue came in research on particles of iron, and what happens when they get really small. “There’s a fascinating problem,” Professor Edwards said. “You take a bit of metal, and you break it into smaller and smaller bits. At what stage does it stop behaving like a copy of the bigger bit?”

When the particle gets below a critical size, it turns out it’s no longer a metal in the standard sense. The electrical conductivity plummets, and its ability to absorb microwaves does the reverse, increasing by ten orders of magnitude.

Professor Edwards realised that this could be useful. “When you turn on the microwaves, these things become little hotspots of heat,” he said. When he put them in a mix of milled-up plastic, he found that they broke the bonds between the hydrogen and carbon, without the expense and mess of also heating up the plastic itself.

What is left is hydrogen gas, which can be used for fuel, and lumps of carbon nanotubes, which Professor Edwards hopes might be of a high enough grade to have a use as well. The next stage is to work with industry to find ways to scale it up.

It sounds rather amazing.

Going Large!

This article from The Times on Friday, is entitled Plastic To Be Saved From Landfill By Revolutionary Recycling Plants.

These are the two introductory paragraphs.

Thousands of tonnes of plastic waste will be turned into new plastic in Britain rather than dumped in landfill sites, incinerated or sent overseas under plans for four new plants that will use cutting-edge recycling technology.

Up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic a year will be chemically transformed in the facilities, which are to be built in Teesside, the West Midlands and Perth.

It all sounds like technology, that can transform our use of plastics.


In the years since I left Liverpool University in 1968 with a degree in Electrical and control Engineering, it has sometimes seemed to me, that chemistry has been a partly neglected science.

It now seems to be coming to the fore strongly.


October 19, 2020 Posted by | Hydrogen | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments