The Anonymous Widower

Is The TP Group Worth A Punt?

I have been following the Class 799 train for some time. It is a hydrogen train prototype being sponsored by the owner of the train; Porterbrook.

The difficult task of fitting all of the hydrogen and electrical electrical gubbins under the floor of the train has been accomplished by the combined efforts of Birmingham University and TP Group.

But TP Group according to this article on The Times, which is entitled Directors In Line Of Fire As TP Group Takeover Bid Turns Sour, seems to have turned a bit difficult for the company.

I wrote about the Class 799 train in A Class 319 Train, But Not As We Know It! and I predict that it could be one of the stars of COP26 in Glasgow later in the year.

This picture sums up why!

The prototype may have designed for publicity, but I can see pictures of Joe, Boris, Angela et all going for a ride in this zero-carbon train, that started out as a British Rail commuter train on Thameslink.

I shall be watching the TP Group share price with interest.

 

August 17, 2021 Posted by | Finance, Hydrogen, Transport | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Solving The Electrification Conundrum

The title of this post, is the same as an article in the July 2021 Edition of Modern Railways.

This is the introductory sub-heading.

Regional and rural railways poses a huge problem for the railway to decarbonise.

Lorna McDonald of Hitachi Rail and Jay Mehta of Hitachi ABB Power Grids tell Andy Roden why they believe they have the answer.

These are my thoughts on what is said.

Battery-Electric Trains

The article starts by giving a review of battery-electric trains and their use on routes of moderate but important length.

  • Some short routes can be handled with just a charge on an electrified main line.
  • Some will need a recharge at the termini.
  • Other routes might need a recharge at some intermediate stations, with a possible increase in dwell times.

It was in February 2015, that I wrote Is The Battery Electric Multiple Unit (BEMU) A Big Innovation In Train Design?, after a ride in public service on Bombardier’s test battery-electric train based on a Class 379 train.

I also wrote this in the related post.

Returning from Harwich, I travelled with the train’s on-board test engineer, who was monitoring the train performance in battery mode on a laptop. He told me that acceleration in this mode was the same as a standard train, that the range was up to sixty miles and that only minimal instruction was needed to convert a driver familiar to the Class 379 to this battery variant.

It was an impressive demonstration, of how a full-size train could be run in normal service without connection to a power supply. I also suspect that the partners in the project must be very confident about the train and its technology to allow paying passengers to travel on their only test train.

A couple of years later, I met a lady on another train, who’d used the test train virtually every day during the trial and she and her fellow travellers felt that it was as good if not better than the normal service from a Class 360 train or a Class 321 train.

So why if the engineering, customer acceptance and reliability were proven six years ago, do we not have several battery electric trains in service?

  • There is a proven need for battery-electric trains on the Marshlink Line and the Uckfield Branch in Sussex.
  • The current Class 171 trains are needed elsewhere, so why are no plans in place for replacement trains?
  • The government is pushing electric cars and buses, but why is there such little political support for battery-electric trains?

It’s almost as if, an important civil servant in the decision process has the naive belief that battery-electric trains won’t work and if they do, they will be phenomenally expensive. So the answer is an inevitable no!

Only in the South Wales Metro, are battery-electric trains considered to be part of the solution to create a more efficient and affordable electric railway.

But as I have constantly pointed out since February 2015 in this blog, battery-electric trains should be one of the innovations we use to build a better railway.

Hydrogen Powered Trains

The article says this about hydrogen powered trains.

Hybrid hydrogen fuel cells can potentially solve the range problem, but at the cost of the fuel eating up internal capacity that would ideally be used for passengers. (and as Industry and Technology Editor Roger Ford points out, at present hydrogen is a rather dirty fuel). By contrast, there is no loss of seating or capacity in a Hitachi battery train.

I suspect the article is referring to the Alstom train, which is based on the technology of the Alstom Coradia iLint.

I have ridden this train.

  • It works reliably.
  • It runs on a 100 km route.
  • The route is partially electrified, but the train doesn’t have a pantograph.
  • It has a very noisy mechanical transmission.

Having spoken to passengers at length, no-one seemed bothered by the Hindenburg possibilities.

It is certainly doing some things right, as nearly fifty trains have been ordered for train operating companies in Germany.

Alstom’s train for the UK is the Class 600 train, which will be converted from a four-car Class 321 train.

Note.

  1. Half of both driver cars is taken up by a hydrogen tank.
  2. Trains will be three-cars.
  3. Trains will be able to carry as many passengers as a two-car Class 156 train.

It is an inefficient design that can be improved upon.

Porterbrook and Birmingham University appear to have done that with their Class 799 train.

  • It can use 25 KVAC overhead or 750 VDC third-rail electrification.
  • The hydrogen tanks, fuel cell and other hydrogen gubbins are under the floor.

This picture from Network Rail shows how the train will appear at COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Now that’s what I call a train! Let alone a hydrogen train!

Without doubt, Porterbrook and their academic friends in Birmingham will be laying down a strong marker for hydrogen at COP26!

I know my hydrogen, as my first job on leaving Liverpool University with my Control Engineering degree in 1968 was for ICI at Runcorn, where I worked in a plant that electrolysed brine into hydrogen, sodium hydroxide and chlorine.

My life went full circle last week, when I rode this hydrogen powered bus in London.

The hydrogen is currently supplied from the same chemical works in Runcorn, where I worked. But plans have been made at Runcorn, to produce the hydrogen from renewable energy, which would make the hydrogen as green hydrogen of the highest standard. So sorry Roger, but totally carbon-free hydrogen is available.

The bus is a Wightbus Hydroliner FCEV and this page on the Wrightbus web site gives the specification. The specification also gives a series of cutaway drawings, which show how they fit 86 passengers, all the hydrogen gubbins and a driver into a standard size double-deck bus.

I believe that Alstom’s current proposal is not a viable design, but I wouldn’t say that about the Porterbrook/Birmingham University design.

Any Alternative To Full Electrification Must Meet Operator And Customer Expectations

This is a paragraph from the article.

It’s essential that an alternative traction solution offers the same levels of performance and frequency, while providing an increase in capacity and being economically viable.

In performance, I would include reliability. As the on-board engineer indicated on the Bombardier  test train on the Harwich branch, overhead electrification is not totally reliable, when there are winds and/or criminals about.

Easy Wins

Hitachi’s five-car Class 800 trains and Class 802 trains each have three diesel engines and run the following short routes.

  • Kings Cross and Middlesbrough- 21 miles not electrified – Changeover in Northallerton station
  • Kings Cross and Lincoln – 16.6 miles not electrified – Changeover in Newark Northgate station
  • Paddington and Bedwyn – 13.3 miles not electrified – Changeover in Newbury station
  • Paddington and Oxford – 10.3 miles not electrified – Changeover in Didcot Parkway station

Some of these routes could surely be run with a train, where one diesel engine was replaced by a battery-pack.

As I’m someone, who was designing, building and testing plug-compatible transistorised electronics in the 1960s to replace  older valve-based equipment in a heavy engineering factory, I suspect that creating a plug-compatible battery-pack that does what a diesel engine does in terms of power and performance is not impossible.

What would be the reaction to passengers, once they had been told, they had run all the way to or from London without using any diesel?

Hopefully, they’d come again and tell their friends, which is what a train operator wants and needs.

Solving The Electrification Conundrum

This section is from the article.

Where electrification isn’t likely to be a viable proposition, this presents a real conundrum to train operators and rolling stock leasing companies.

This is why Hitachi Rail and Hitachi ABB Power Grids are joining together to present a combined battery train and charging solution to solve this conundrum. In 2020, Hitachi and ABB’s Power Grids business, came together in a joint venture, and an early outcome of this is confidence that bringing together their expertise in rail, power and grid management, they can work together to make electrification simpler cheaper and quicker.

I agree strongly with the second paragraph, as several times, I’ve been the mathematician and simulation expert in a large multi-disciplinary engineering project, that went on to be very successful.

The Heart Of The Proposition

This is a paragraph from the article.

The proposition is conceptually simple. Rather than have extended dwell times at stations for battery-powered trains, why not have a short stretch of 25 KVAC overhead catenary (the exact length will depend on the types of train and the route) which can charge trains at linespeed on the move via a conventional pantograph?

The article also mentions ABB’s related expertise.

  • Charging buses all over Europe.
  • Creating the power grid for the Great Western Electrification to Cardiff.

I like the concept, but then it’s very similar to what I wrote in The Concept Of Electrification Islands in April 2020.

But as they are electrical power engineers and I’m not, they’d know how to create the system.

Collaboration With Hyperdrive Innovation

The article has nothing negative to say about the the collaboration with Hyperdrive Innovation to produce the battery-packs.

Route Modelling

Hitachi appear to have developed a sophisticated route modelling system, so that routes and charging positions can be planned.

I would be very surprised if they hadn’t developed such a system.

Modular And Scalable

This is a paragraph from the article.

In the heart of the system is a containerised modular solution containing everything needed to power a stretch of overhead catenary to charge trains. A three-car battery train might need one of these, but the great advantage is that it is scalable to capacity and speed requirements.

This all sounds very sensible and can surely cope with a variety of lines and traffic levels.

It also has the great advantage , that if a line is eventually electrified, the equipment can be moved on to another line.

Financing Trains And Chargers

The article talks about the flexibility of the system from an operator’s point of view with respect to finance.

I’ve had some good mentors in the area of finance and I know innovative finance contributed to the success of Metier Management Systems, the project management company I started with three others in 1977.

After selling Metier, I formed an innovative finance company, which would certainly have liked the proposition put forward in the article.

No Compromise, Little Risk

I would agree with this heading of the penultimate section of the article.

In February 2015, when I rode that Class 379 train between Manningtree and Harwich, no compromise had been made by Bombardier and it charged in the electrified bay platform at Manningtree.

But why was that train not put through an extensive route-proving exercise in the UK after the successful trial at Manningtree?

  • Was it the financial state of Bombardier?
  • Was it a lack of belief on the part of politicians, who were too preoccupied with Brexit?
  • Was it that an unnamed civil servant didn’t like the concept and stopped the project?

Whatever the reason, we have wasted several years in getting electric trains accepted on UK railways.

If no compromise needs to be made to create a battery-electric train, that is equivalent to the best-in-class diesel or electric multiple units, then what about the risk?

The beauty of Hitachi’s battery-electric train project is that it can be done in phases designed to minimise risk.

Phase 1 – Initial Battery Testing 

Obviously, there will be a lot of bench testing in a laboratory.

But I also believe that if the Class 803 trains are fitted with a similar battery from Hyperdrive Innovation, then this small fleet of five trains can be used to test a lot of the functionality of the batteries initially in a test environment and later in a real service environment.

The picture shows a Class 803 train under test through Oakleigh Park station.

This phase would be very low risk, especially where passengers are concerned.

Phase 2 – Battery Traction Testing And Route Proving

I am a devious bastard, when it comes to software development. The next set of features would always be available for me to test earlier, than anybody else knew.

I doubt that the engineers at Hyperdrive Innovation will be any different.

So I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the batteries in the Class 803 trains can also be used for traction, if you have the right authority.

We might even see Class 803 trains turning up in some unusual places to test the traction abilities of the batteries.

As East Coast Trains, Great Western Railway and Hull Trains are all First Group companies, I can’t see any problems.

I’m also sure that Hitachi could convert some Class 800 or Class 802 trains and add these to the test fleet, if East Coast Trains need their Class 803 trains to start service.

This phase would be very low risk, especially where passengers are concerned.

Possibly, the worse thing, that could happen would be a battery failure, which would need the train to be rescued.

Phase 3 – Service Testing On Short Routes

As I indicated earlier, there are some easy routes between London and places like Bedwyn, Lincoln, Middlesbrough and Oxford, that should be possible with a Class 800 or Class 802 train fitted with the appropriate number of batteries.

Once the trains have shown, the required level of performance and reliability, I can see converted Class 800, 801 and Class 802 trains entering services on these and other routes.

Another low risk phase, although passengers are involved, but they are probably subject to the same risks, as on an unmodified train.

Various combinations of diesel generators and batteries could be used to find out, what is the optimum combination for the typical diagrams that train operators use.

Hitachi didn’t commit to any dates, but I can see battery-electric trains running on the Great Western Railway earlier than anybody thinks.

Phase 4 – Service Testing On Medium Routes With A Terminal Charger System

It is my view that the ideal test route for battery-electric trains with a terminal charger system would be the Hull Trains service between London Kings Cross and Hull and Beverley.

The route is effectively in three sections.

  • London Kings Cross and Temple Hirst junction – 169.2 miles – Full Electrification
  • Temple Hirst junction and Hull station – 36.1 miles – No Electrification
  • Hull station and Beverley station – 8.3 miles – No Electrification

Two things would be needed to run zero-carbon electric trains on this route.

  • Sufficient battery capacity in Hull Trains’s Class 802 trains to reliably handle the 36.1 miles between Temple Hirst junction and Hull station.
  • A charging system in Hull station.

As Hull station also handles other Class 800 and Class 802 trains, there will probably be a need to put a charging system in more than one platform.

Note.

  1. Hull station has plenty of space.
  2. No other infrastructure work would be needed.
  3. There is a large bus interchange next door, so I suspect the power supply to Hull station is good.

Hull would be a very good first destination for a battery-electric InterCity train.

Others would include Bristol, Cheltenham, Chester, Scarborough, Sunderland and Swansea.

The risk would be very low, if the trains still had some diesel generator capacity.

Phase 5 – Service Testing On Long Routes With Multiple Charger Systems

Once the performance and reliability of the charger systems have been proven in single installations like perhaps Hull and Swansea stations, longer routes can be prepared for electric trains.

This press release from Hitachi is entitled Hitachi And Eversholt Rail To Develop GWR Intercity Battery Hybrid Train – Offering Fuel Savings Of More Than 20%.

The press release talks about Penzance and London, so would that be a suitable route for discontinuous electrification using multiple chargers?

These are the distances between major points on the route between Penzance and London Paddington.

  • Penzance and Truro – 35.8 miles
  • Truro and Bodmin Parkway – 26.8 miles
  • Bodmin Parkway and Plymouth – 26.9 miles
  • Plymouth and Newton Abbot – 31,9 miles
  • Newton Abbot and Exeter – 20.2 miles
  • Exeter and Taunton – 30.8 miles
  • Taunton and Westbury – 47.2 miles
  • Westbury and Newbury – 42.5 miles
  • Newbury and Paddington – 53 miles

Note.

  1. Only Newbury and Paddington is electrified.
  2. Trains generally stop at Plymouth, Newton Abbott, Exeter and Taunton.
  3. Services between Paddington and Exeter, Okehampton, Paignton, Penzance, Plymouth and Torquay wouldn’t use diesel.
  4. Okehampton would be served by a reverse at Exeter.
  5. As Paignton is just 8.1 miles from Newton Abbot, it probably wouldn’t need a charger.
  6. Bodmin is another possible destination, as Great Western Railway have helped to finance a new platform at Bodmin General station.

It would certainly be good marketing to run zero-carbon electric trains to Devon and Cornwall.

I would class this route as medium risk, but with a high reward for the operator.

In this brief analysis, it does look that Hitachi’s proposed system is of a lower risk.

A Few Questions

I do have a few questions.

Are The Class 803 Trains Fitted With Hyperdrive Innovation Batteries?

East Coast Trains‘s new Class 803 trains are undergoing testing between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh and they can be picked up on Real Time Trains.

Wikipedia says this about the traction system for the trains.

While sharing a bodyshell with the previous UK A-train variants, the Class 803 differs in that it has no diesel engines fitted. They will however be fitted with batteries to enable the train’s on-board services to be maintained, in case the primary electrical supplies have failed.

Will these emergency batteries be made by Hyperdrive Innovation?

My experience of similar systems in other industries, points me to the conclusion, that all Class 80x trains can be fitted with similar, if not identical batteries.

This would give the big advantage of allowing battery testing to be performed on Class 803 trains under test, up and down the East Coast Main Line.

Nothing finds faults in the design and manufacture of something used in transport, than to run it up and down in real conditions.

Failure of the catenary can be simulated to check out emergency modes.

Can A Class 801 Train Be Converted Into A Class 803 Train?

If I’d designed the trains, this conversion would be possible.

Currently, the electric Class 801 trains have a single diesel generator. This is said in the Wikipedia entry for the Class 800 train about the Class 801 train.

These provide emergency power for limited traction and auxiliaries if the power supply from the overhead line fails.

So it looks like the difference between the powertrain of a Class 801 train and a Class 803 train, is that the Class 801 train has a diesel generator and the Class 803 train has batteries. But the diesel generator and batteries, would appear to serve the same purpose.

Surely removing diesel from a Class 801 train would ease the maintenance of the train!

Will The System Work With Third-Rail Electrification?

There are three routes that if they were electrified would probably be electrified with 750 DC third-rail electrification, as they have this electrification at one or both ends.

  • Basingstoke and Exeter
  • Marshlink Line
  • Uckfield branch

Note.

  1. Basingstoke and Exeter would need a couple of charging systems.
  2. The Marshlink line would need a charging system at Rye station.
  3. The Uckfield branch would need a charging system at Uckfield station.

I am fairly certain as an Electrical Engineer, that the third-rails would only need to be switched on, when a train is connected and needs a charge.

I also feel that on some scenic and other routes, 750 VDC third-rail electrification may be more acceptable , than 25 KVAC  overhead electrification. For example, would the heritage lobby accept overhead wires through a World Heritage Site or on top of a Grade I Listed viaduct?

I do feel that the ability to use third-rail 750 VDC third-rail electrification strategically could be a useful tool in the system.

Will The System Work With Lightweight Catenary?

I like the design of this 25 KVAC overhead electrification, that uses lightweight gantries, which use laminated wood for the overhead structure.

There is also a video.

Electrification doesn’t have to be ugly and out-of-character with the surroundings.

Isuspect that both systems could work together.

 

Would Less Bridges Need To Be Rebuilt For Electrification?

This is always a contentious issue with electrification, as rebuilding bridges causes disruption to both rail and road.

I do wonder though by the use of careful design, that it might be possible to arrange that the sections of electrification and the contentious bridges were kept apart, with the bridges arranged to be in sections, where the trains ran on batteries.

I suspect that over the years as surveyors and engineers get more experienced, better techniques will evolve to satisfy all parties.

Get this right and it could reduce the cost of electrification on some lines, that will be difficult to electrify.

How Secure Are The Containerised Systems?

Consider.

  • I was delayed in East Anglia two years ago, because someone stole the overhead wires at two in the morning.
  • Apparently, overhead wire stealing is getting increasingly common in France and other parts of Europe.

I suspect the containerised systems will need to be more secure than those used for buses, which are not in isolated locations.

Will The Containerised Charging Systems Use Energy Storage?

Consider.

  • I’ve lived in rural locations and the power grids are not as good as in urban areas.
  • Increasingly, batteries of one sort or another are being installed in rural locations to beef up local power supplies.
  • A new generation of small-footprint eco-friendly energy storage systems are being developed.

In some locations, it might be prudent for a containerised charging system to share a battery with the local area.

Will The Containerised Charging Systems Accept Electricity From Local Sources Like Solar Farms?

I ask the question, as I know at least one place on the UK network, where a line without electrification runs through a succession of solar farms.

I also know of an area, where a locally-owned co-operative is planning a solar farm, which they propose would be used to power the local main line.

Will The System Work With Class 385 Trains?

Hitachi’s Class 385 trains are closely related to the Class 80x trains, as they are all members of Hitachi’s A-Train family.

Will the Charging Systems Charge Other Manufacturers Trains?

CAF and Stadler are both proposing to introduce battery-electric trains in the UK.

I also suspect that the new breed of electric parcel trains will include a battery electric variant.

As these trains will be able to use 25 KVAC overhead electrification, I would expect, that they would be able to charge their batteries on the Hitachi ABB  charging systems.

Will The System Work With Freight Trains?

I believe that freight services will split into two.

Heavy freight will probably use powerful hydrogen-electric locomotives.

In Freightliner Secures Government Funding For Dual-Fuel Project, which is based on a Freightliner press release, I detail Freightliner’s decarbonisation strategy, which indicates that in the future they will use hydrogen-powered locomotives.

But not all freight is long and extremely heavy and I believe that a battery-electric freight locomotive will emerge for lighter duties.

There is no reason it could not be designed to be compatible with Hitachi’s charging system.

In Is This The Shape Of Freight To Come?, I talked about the plans for 100 mph parcel services based on redundant electric multiple units. Eversholt Rail Group have said they want a Last-Mile capability for their version of these trains.

Perhaps they need a battery-electric capability, so they can deliver parcels and shop supplies to the remoter parts of these islands?

Where Could Hitachi’s System Be Deployed?

This is the final paragraph from the article.

Hitachi is not committing to any routes yet, but a glance at the railway map shows clear potential for the battery/OLE-technology to be deployed on relatively lightly used rural and regional routes where it will be hard to make a case for electrification. The Cambrian Coast and Central Wales Lines would appear to be worthy candidates, and in Scotland, the West Highland Line and Far North routes are also logical areas for the system to be deployed.

In England, while shorter branch lines could simply be operated by battery trains, longer routes need an alternative. Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy interim business case recommends hydrogen trains for branch lines in Norfolk, as well as Par to Newquay and Exeter to Barnstaple. However, it is also entirely feasible to use the system on routes likely to be electrified much later in the programme, such as the Great Western main line West of Exeter, Swansea to Fishguard and parts of the Cumbrian Coast Line.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and mine would be driven by high collateral benefits and practicality.

These are my thoughts.

Long Rural Lines

The Cambrian, Central Wales (Heart Of Wales), Far North and West Highland Lines may not be connected to each other, but they form a group of rail routes with a lot of shared characteristics.

  • All are rural routes of between 100 and 200 miles.
  • All are mainly single track.
  • They carry occasional freight trains.
  • They carry quite a few tourists, who are there to sample, view or explore the countryside.
  • All trains are diesel.
  • Scotrail have been experimenting with attaching Class 153 trains to the trains on the West Highland Line to act as lounge cars and cycle storage.

Perhaps we need a long-distance rural train with the following characteristics.

  • Four or possibly five cars
  • Battery-electric power
  • Space for a dozen cycles
  • A lounge car
  • Space for a snack trolley
  • Space to provide a parcels service to remote locations.

I should also say, that I’ve used trains on routes in countries like Germany, Poland and Slovenia, where a similar train requirement exists.

Norfolk Branch Lines

Consider.

  • North of the Cambridge and Ipswich, the passenger services on the branch lines and the important commuter routes between Cambridge and Norwich and Ipswich are run by Stadler Class 755 trains, which are designed to be converted to battery-electric trains.
  • Using Hitachi chargers at Beccles, Bury St. Edmunds, Lowestoft, Thetford and Yarmouth and the existing electrification, battery-electric Class 755 trains could provide a zero-carbon train service for Norfolk and Suffolk.
  • With chargers at Dereham and March, two important new branch lines could be added and the Ipswich and Peterborough service could go hourly and zero carbon.
  • Greater Anglia have plans to use the Class 755 trains to run a London and Lowestoft service.
  • Could they be planning a London and Norwich service via Cambridge?
  • Would battery-electric trains running services over Norfolk bring in more visitors by train?

Hitachi may sell a few chargers to Greater Anglia, but I feel they have enough battery-electric trains.

Par And Newquay

The Par and Newquay Line or the Atlantic Coast Line, has been put forward as a Beeching Reversal project, which I wrote about in Beeching Reversal – Transforming The Newquay Line.

In that related post, I said the line needed the following.

  • An improved track layout.
  • An hourly service.
  • An improved Par station.
  • A rebuilt Newquay station with a second platform, so that more through trains can be run.

I do wonder, if after the line were to be improved, that a new three-car battery-electric train shuttling between Par and Newquay stations could be the icing on the cake.

Exeter And Barnstaple

The Tarka Line between Exeter and Barnstaple is one of several local and main lines radiating from Exeter St. David’s station.

  • The Avocet Line to Exmouth
  • The Great Western Main Line to Taunton, Bristol and London
  • The Great Western Main Line to Newton Abbott, Plymouth and Penzance
  • The Riviera Line to Paignton
  • The West of England Line to Salisbury, Basingstoke and London.

Note.

  1. The Dartmoor Line to Okehampton is under development.
  2. Several new stations are planned on the routes.
  3. I have already stated that Exeter could host a charging station between London and Penzance, but it could also be an electrified hub for battery-electric trains running hither and thither.

Exeter could be a city with a battery-electric metro.

Exeter And Penzance

Earlier, I said that I’d trial multiple chargers between Paddington and Penzance to prove the concept worked.

I said this.

I would class this route as medium risk, but with a high reward for the operator.

But it is also an enabling route, as it would enable the following battery-electric services.

  • London and Bodmin
  • London and Okehampton
  • London and Paignton and Torquay

It would also enable the Exeter battery-electric metro.

For these reasons, this route should be electrified using Hitachi’s discontinuous electrification.

Swansea And Fishguard

I mentioned Swansea earlier, as a station, that could be fitted with a charging system, as this would allow battery-electric trains between Paddington and Swansea via Cardiff.

Just as with Exeter, there must be scope at Swansea to add a small number of charging systems to develop a battery-electric metro based on Swansea.

Cumbrian Coast Line

This is a line that needs improvement, mainly for the tourists and employment it could and probably will bring.

These are a few distances.

  • West Coast Main Line (Carnforth) and Barrow-in-Furness – 28.1 miles
  • Barrow-in-Furness and Sellafield – 25 miles
  • Sellafield and Workington – 18 miles
  • Workington and West Coast Main Line (Carlisle) – 33 miles

Note.

  1. The West Coast Main Line is fully-electrified.
  2. I suspect that Barrow-in-Furness, Sellafield and Workington have good enough electricity supplies to support charging systems  for the Cumbrian Coast Line.
  3. The more scenic parts of the line would be left without wires.

It certainly is a line, where a good case for running battery-electric trains can be made.

Crewe And Holyhead

In High-Speed Low-Carbon Transport Between Great Britain And Ireland, I looked at zero-carbon travel between the Great Britain and Ireland.

One of the fastest routes would be a Class 805 train between Euston and Holyhead and then a fast catamaran to either Dublin or a suitable rail-connected port in the North.

  • The Class 805 trains could be made battery-electric.
  • The trains could run between Euston and Crewe at speeds of up to 140 mph under digital signalling.
  • Charging systems would probably be needed at Chester, Llandudno Junction and Holyhead.
  • The North Wales Coast Line looks to my untrained eyes, that it could support at least some 100 mph running.

I believe that a time of under three hours could be regularly achieved between London Euston and Holyhead.

Battery-electric trains on this route, would deliver the following benefits.

  • A fast low-carbon route from Birmingham, London and Manchester to the island of Ireland. if coupled with the latest fast catamarans at Holyhead.
  • Substantial reductions in journey times to and from Anglesey and the North-West corner of Wales.
  • Chester could become a hub for battery-electric trains to and from Birmingham, Crewe, Liverpool, Manchester and Shrewsbury.
  • Battery-electric trains could be used on the Conwy Valley Line.
  • It might even be possible to connect the various railways, heritage railways and tourist attractions in the area with zero-carbon shuttle buses.
  • Opening up of the disused railway across Anglesey.

The economics of this corner of Wales could be transformed.

My Priority Routes

To finish this section, I will list my preferred routes for this method of discontinuous electrification.

  • Exeter and Penzance
  • Swansea and Fishguard
  • Crewe and Holyhead

Note.

  1. Some of the trains needed for these routes have been delivered or are on order.
  2. Local battery-electric services could be developed at Chester, Exeter and Swansea by building on the initial systems.
  3. The collateral benefits could be high for Anglesey, West Wales and Devon and Cornwall.

I suspect too, that very little construction work not concerned with the installation of the charging systems will be needed.

Conclusion

Hitachi have come up with a feasible way to electrify Great Britain’s railways.

I would love to see detailed costings for the following.

  • Adding a battery pack to a Class 800 train.
  • Installing five miles of electrification supported by a containerised charging system.

They could be on the right side for the Treasury.

But whatever the costs, it does appear that the Japanese have gone native, with their version of the Great British Compromise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 9, 2021 Posted by | Design, Energy, Hydrogen, Transport | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

A Class 319 Train, But Not As We Know It!

This article on Rail Advent is entitled COP26 To Showcase Britain’s Sustainable Trains Of The Future Thanks To Network Rail And Porterbrook Partnership.

The article talks about and shows pictures of Porterbrook’s HydroFLEX or Class 799 train, which has been developed by the University of Birmingham, fitted out for COP26.

I have downloaded this picture of the interior from Network Rail’s media centre.

Who’d have thought a Class 319 train could look so grand?

But then some Class 319 trains used by commuters don’t look their age of over thirty years.

These pictures were taken on the Abbey Line in 2018.

There’s also this BBC Profile and video of the technology behind the HydroFLEX train.

Conclusion

It looks like Network Rail and Porterbrook are doing their best to showcase the best that Britain and Scotland can offer.

I am reminded of a tale, that I heard from a former GEC manager.

He was involved in selling one of GEC’s Air Traffic Control radars to a Middle Eastern country.

The only working installation of the radar was at Prestwick in Scotland, so he arranged that the dignitaries and the sales team would be flown to Prestwick in GEC’s HS 125 business jet.

As they disembarked at Prestwick and walked to the terminal, the pilot called the GEC Manager over.

The pilot told him “The Scottish Highlands at this time of the year, are one of the most beautiful places in the world! Would you and your guests like a low-level tour on the way back? I can arrange it, if you say so!”

Despite knowing GEC’s draconian attitude to cost control he said yes.

The sale was clinched!

Are Network Rail, Porterbrook, the UK and Scottish Governments, setting up the same Scottish treatment to all the delegates to COP26?

 

June 6, 2021 Posted by | Hydrogen, Transport, World | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Volunteers Launch Conversion Of First Hydrogen Shunter

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

This story is a good example of how universities, companies, heritage railways and volunteers can work together to deliver useful projects.

Some of the Beeching Reversal and other projects seem to be following a similar model and if it works well, this can only be a good thing to improve the railway.

 

April 23, 2021 Posted by | Hydrogen, Transport | , , , | 1 Comment

First French Region Signs Hydrogen Train Contract

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on the International Railway Journal.

This is the introductory paragraph.

The Bourgogne-Franche Comté region has signed a contract with Alstom, through operator French National Railways (SNCF), for the supply of three Coradia Polyvalent electro-hydrogen dual-mode multiple units.

These are some points from the article.

  • The three trains are from an order for 14 from four French regions.
  • The trains can use 1500 VDC and 25 KVAC electrification.
  • They will be able to use hydrogen power, where there is no electrification.
  • Range on hydrogen will be 400-600 km.
  • Operating speed will be up to 160 kph.
  • Trains will be four cars, with a capacity of 220 passengers.
  • Trains will start test running in 2024 on the 19km non-electrified Auxerre – Laroche – Migennes line.

As with the Alstom  Class 600 hydrogen trains for the UK, deliveries don’t seem to be fast.

I wrote Hydrogen Trains Ready To Steam Ahead in January 2019. This is the first few paragraphs.

The title of this post is the same as that of an article in today’s copy of The Times.

This is the first two paragraphs.

Hydrogen trains will be introduced in as little as two years under ambitious plans to phase out dirty diesel engines.

The trains, which are almost silent and have zero emissions, will operate at speeds of up to 90 mph and release steam only as a by-product. The new trains, which will be called “Breeze” will be employed on commuter and suburban lines by early 2021.

Wikipedia is now saying, that these trains will enter service in 2024.

As Alstom haven’t got any orders for the train, I will be very surprised if they achieve that date.

Is it Alstom, French project management or problems with hydrogen?

I don’t think it’s anything to do with hydrogen, as the Germans built the successful iLint for Alstom and Birmingham University put together a hydrogen demonstration train in double-quick time.

Given all the problems that the French are having with rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine could it be that the French have a Can’t Do! attitude, rather than most other countries, which seem to have a Can Do! attitude.

 

 

 

March 12, 2021 Posted by | Health, Hydrogen, Transport | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hydroflex Takes To The Main Line

The title of this post is the same as that of an article in the November 2020 Edition of Modern Railways.

This is the opening paragraph.

Hydroflex, the UK;s first full-size hydrogen train, made its debut on the main line on 21 September, travelling from Long Marston to Evesham and back.

This looks like a good start.

I am not surprised that the conversion was designed and built by Birmingham University.

Look at this picture of myself in front of a detector in the Large Haldron Collidor at CERN in Geneva.

Much of the detector was built in the workshops at Liverpool University.

The quality of engineering in most universities is very high, which is surely a good omen for the future.

Work in Birmingham on Hydroflex seems to be proceeding apace, with the following objectives.

  • More automation.
  • Moving the hydrogen drive train components to rafts under the driving cars.
  • Improving operating speed from the current 50 mph.

There is also this significant paragraph that quotes Helen Simpson of Porterbrook.

‘At Porterbrook we want to present a fleet of hydrogen trains as a commercial offering to operators’ Ms. Simpson adds, noting that moving equipment out of passenger saloons is an important element of this. Porterbrook will apply learning from its Class 769 electric/diesel bi-mode units, which have placed diesel engines beneath the driving vehicles. Ms. Simpson does not rule out retro-fitment on other classes of train, but notes a lot of work has been undertaken on converting 319s’.

The big difference between the Hydroflex and the Alstom Coradia iLint, is that the Hydroflex retains the capability to use overhead electrification, so the hydrogen power can be used as a range extender.

 

 

November 10, 2020 Posted by | Hydrogen, Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Hydrogen-Powered Train Makes UK Maiden Journey

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

This is said in the article.

A hydrogen-powered train has travelled on Britain’s rail network for the first time.

The prototype, called the Hydroflex, made a 25-mile round trip through Warwickshire and Worcestershire, reaching speeds of up to 50 mph.

Its next phase is to move the hydrogen tanks, fuel cell and battery out of a carriage and stash them underneath the train.

The aim is for the train to start carrying paying passengers by the end of 2021.

Note that the article contains a broadcast-quality video.

There are now two hydrogen-powered trains in development in the UK.

Both the trains being converted are British Rail trains based on the Mark 3 coach design.

  • They were built originally in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • They were built for commuting over medium distances.
  • They are 100 mph trains.
  • They will keep their pantographs, so running using 25 KVAC overhead electrification.

Both trains could be fitted with quality interiors.

But from what has been disclosed the designs will be quite different.

  • The Class 799 train will be four cars, as opposed to three cars of the Class 600 train.
  • The Class 600 trains will have large hydrogen tanks inside the train, whereas the Class 799 train will have smaller ones underneath the train.
  • I would expect the Class 600 train to have a longer range between refuelling.
  • The Class 799 train will also be a tri-mode train, with the ability to use 750 VDC third-rail electrification.

As there are nearly over a hundred Class 321 trains and nearly ninety Class 319 trains, if the hydrogen conversion is successful, we could be seeing a lot of hydrogen trains on the UK rail network.

October 1, 2020 Posted by | Hydrogen, Transport | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The World’s First Bi-Mode Hydrogen-Electric Train

This news page on the University of Birmingham web site is entitled HydroFLEX Secures Funding For Hydrogen-Powered Train Design.

The page is mainly about the new funding from Innovate UK, that I wrote about in First Of A Kind Funding Awarded For 25 Rail Innovation Projects, but it also includes this significant paragraph.

As well as being the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train, HydroFLEX is also the world’s first bi-mode electric hydrogen train. It will be undergoing mainline testing on the UK railway in the next few weeks.

One of my disappointments in the design of the Alstom Coradia iLint, is that, it is designed as a hydrogen-power only train, where it could surely have had a pantograph fitted, for more efficient working.

Consider.

  • I suspect many hydrogen-powered trains will only be doing short distances, where electrification is not available, so daily distances under hydrogen power could be quite short.
  • In the UK, a smaller hydrogen tank would certainly ease the design problems caused by a large fuel tank.
  • There have been improvements in hydrogen storage in recent years.

The funding award to the project talks about raft production, so are the engineers, aiming to design a hydrogen power-pack on rafts, that could be fitted underneath the large fleets of retired electric multiple units, that are owned by Porterbrook.

Now that would be a game changer.

  • Porterbrook have thirty-seven Class 350 trains, that will be replaced in the next few years by new trains. The electric trains are less than a dozen years old and Porterbrook have been talking about fitting batteries to these trains and creating a battery/FLEX train. Would making these trains bi-mode hydrogen-electric trains be better?
  • Birmingham wants to open up new rail routes in the city on lines without electrification. What would be better than a hydrogen powered train, designed in the city’s premier university?
  • Routes from Birmingham to Burton-on-Trent, Hereford, Leicester, Shrewsbury, Stratford-on-Avon and Worcester would be prime candidates for the deployment of a fleet of bi-mode hydrogen-electric trains.
  • Birmingham have already asked ITM Power to build a hydrogen filling station in the city for hydrogen buses.

 

June 18, 2020 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

First Of A Kind Funding Awarded For 25 Rail Innovation Projects

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Railway Gazette.

This is the introductory paragraph.

The Department for Transport and Innovate UK have announced the 25 projects which are to share £9·4m of funding under the 2020 round of the First of a Kind rail industry innovation programme.

It appears to be a longer list, than I’ve seen previously awarded.

Project 1 Train Swap From Seatfrog Ops

Seatfrog is an app, that enables passengers to quickly and remotely update their seat reservation to a different service.

It already appears to be in use with Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, GWR and LNER.

This application could have legs, as it looks a bit like eBay for First Class seats.

Project 2 Dynamic Capacity Management From Esoterix Systems Ltd

It is described as follows.

Ticketing that adjusts to travel patterns and rewards particular choices, using a monthly subscription that will help customers to save money on a large upfront fee.

Their web site doesn’t give much specific detail, as I write this.

Project 3 Next Generation Composite Poles For A 5G Enabled Railway From Hive Composites

It is descrtibed as follows.

Installation of lightweight composite poles along railways to improve wi-fi speed, consistency and connectivity.

Their web site doesn’t give more specific detail, as I write this.

Project 4 Illumin Heated Concrete Platform Coper Slabs From Sheffield Hallam University

It is described as follows.

Illuminated and heated low-energy concrete slabs for station platforms, which automatically switch on in freezing conditions to help prevent passengers from slipping on ice.

The Sheffield Hallam University doesn’t give more specific detail, as I write this.

Project 5 LAMINAR From iProov

It is described as follows.

iProov, WorldReach Software and Eurostar are to establish a walk-through ’facial biometric corridor’ at London St Pancras International to allow passengers to complete ticket checks and border exit processes without needing to come into contact with people or hardware.

There is more on the iProov web site.

I think, this could be the way to ensure safe train travel in these pandemic times.

It would certainly cut queues.

Project 6 Track-To-Train Communications To Transport for Wales From Ingram Networks

It is described as follows.

Lab-based study into cost-effective 10 Gbps+ trackside to train communications infrastructure, to be tested on an 8 km heritage railway in Leicestershire.

Their web site doesn’t give more specific detail, as I write this.

Project 7 Prototype Zero Emissions Trac Rail Transposer (TRT-e) From Unipart Rail

This is described as follows.

A zero-emissions machine which removes and replaces rails.

The Unipart Rail web site, doesn’t give more specific details as I write this

Will it be battery or hydrogen-powered?

Project 8 LoCe: Less Oil, Cleaner Exhaust From Porterbrook Leasing

This is described as follows.

£400 000 to support Porterbook, Eminox, Bosch Rexroth and DG8 in retrofitting a Bombardier Class 170 Turbostar DMUs leased to East Midlands Railway with with Eminox SCRT technology to evaluate whether this can reduce CO, particulate, hydrocarbon and NOx emissions to make mid-life diesel engines more environmentally sustainable.

There is more on Porterbrook’s web site.

Project 9 Zero Emission Rail Freight Power From Steamology Motion

This is described as follows.

Hydrogen-based steam turbine system to provide zero emission power for existing freight locomotives.

In Steam, But Not As You Know It…, I give more details of their technology.

Could Steamology Motion really be on the verge of reengining a Class 66 locomotive with a zero-carbon steam technology that uses hydrogen and oxygen as a fuel?

Project 10 Daybreak From Riding Sunbeams

This is described as follows.

A direct connection between renewable energy generation and overhead electrifcation systems.

There is more on this page on the Riding Sunbeams web site.

Project 11 Resi-Glaze From FAR-UK

This is described as follows.

Resilient glazing solution to ensure passenger safety on trains and a potential CO2 emissions saving.

I can’t find anything more about this.

Project 12 HydroFLEX Raft Production From BCRRE

This is described as follows.

£400 000 grant to support final production design and testing  by the University of Birmingham and Porterbrook of a hydrogen power pack intended to minimise the loss of passenger saloon space.

Just reading the extract, it seems that the University of Birmingham have found a solution to the big problem of hydrogen-powered trains in the UK; the small loading gauge.

Project 13 Low Environmental Impact Composite  Footbridge From Associated Utility Supplies

This is described as follows.

A footbridge made entirely from fibre reinforced polymer, which is designed to be significantly easier to install than an equivalent steel bridge to help reduce network disruption and local environmental damage.

Could their share of the £9.4 million, almost build the first footbridge?

Looking at the Associated Utility Supplies web site, amongst the wide range of equipment, that they source for various industries, where danger is ever present, there are no footbridges.

So did their expertise and that of some Network Rail engineers, all come together in a convivial meeting to produce an innovative design of footbridge?

Project 14 Integrated Optical Fibre Sensing (OptRail-PRO) From rcm2

This is described as follows.

Optic fibre sensors to monitor the condition of switches and crossings.

The rcm2 web site doesn’t give more specific details, as I write this.

Project 15 Train Axle Crack Monitoring From TAMON – Perpetuum

This is described as follows.

Using sensors and pattern-recognition technologies to identify cracks in axles, helping to reduce returns to depot.

Perpetuum seem a very capable company.

Project 16 High Speed Cryogenic Blasting For Rail Cleaning To Alleviate Low Adhesion From Sheffield University

This is described as follows.

High speed cryogenic cleaning system for tracks to prevent low adhesion and slow running of trains.

This article on the BBC, which is entitled Dry ice ‘could stop leaves on line rail delays’, explains the technology.

Dry Ice Blasting is also explained on this page on the IceTech Technologies web site.

As the dry ice is carbon dioxide, will the Green Movement object?

The Wikipedia entry for dry ice blasting says this about its environmental effects.

Dry ice blasting is an environmentally responsible cleaning method. Dry ice is made of reclaimed carbon dioxide that is produced from other industrial processes, and is an approved media by the EPA, FDA and USDA. It also reduces or eliminates employee exposure to the use of chemical cleaning agents.

Compared to other media blasting methods, dry ice blasting does not create secondary waste or chemical residues as dry ice sublimates, or converts back to a gaseous state, when it hits the surface that is being cleaned. Dry ice blasting does not require clean-up of a blasting medium. The waste products, which includes just the dislodged media, can be swept up, vacuumed or washed away depending on the containment.

It appears it could be one of those processes, that when it replaces a traditional method, has more benefits than disadvantages.

Project 17 InnoTamp From Fugro

This is described as follows.

Data gathering to ensure the maintenance of optimum rail alignment.

The project is described on this page of the  Fugro web site.

Prokject 18 Thermal Radiometry For The Remote Condition Monitoring Of Railway Vehicles From Rail Innovations

This is described as follows.

Using thermal radiometry camera technology to measure temperatures of mechanical systems on moving trains, sending automatic alarms in the event of over heating.

I can’t find any more information on this project.

Project 19 Minimising Disruption Of Overhead Line Renewals Via Novel Headspan Assemblies From Associated Utility Supplies

This is described as follows.

Span wire clamping system to enable rapid, low-cost overhead line equipment headspan renewals with minimum network disruption.

This is a second project from the same company.

Project 20 Trainserv Software User Trial And Preparation For Commercialisation From Cogitaire

This is described as follows.

Integrating multiple sources of real-time data for use by rail workers to help them improve services and respond to incidents.

Cogitare seem a very capable company.

Project 21 Cleartrak On-Train Testing From Garrandale

This is described as follows.

Innovative and efficient system for processing toilet waste, reducing cost and maintenance requirements.

Ptoject 22 IRIS: Information System For Railway Station Staff From Liverpool John Moores University

This is described as follows.

An information system for frontline station staff to enhance communication and enable them to help passengers in making travel decisions and planning more effectively.

Another project from a University.

Project 23 Railway Optical Detection & Obstructions – Tunnel & Station Monitoring From Vortex IoT

This is described as follows.

Sensors and data analysis tools to detect and identify intrusion and obstructions on the track, and send real-time situational alerts to the rail control centre to prompt further investigation. 

This page on the Vortex IoT web site shows some of the technology they will use.

Project 24 Improving Resilience Through A Surface Water Flooding Decision Support System from IBA Consulting

This is described as follows.

This project seeks to develop a first of a kind surface water flood forecasting and early warning system for Network Rail using technology and data to map the surface water flood likelihood in real time, ahead of the event and forecast rainfall intensity.

I can’t find the company or this project.

Project 25 Improved Railway Operations Through Train-Mounted Water Addition From CoCatalyst

This is described as follows.

Spraying a small amount of water from the train when slippery rails are detected to improve traction and braking, and prevent subsequent services from being affected.

There’s a detailed description on this page on the Water=Trak web site.

This looks to be a simple idea, that may be significant, to stop wheel slippage.

Conclusion

The ideas are more numerous than usual and they are a very wide-ranging bunch.

In Grants To Support Low-Carbon Technology Demonstrators, which were a similar group in 2019, that were also funded by Innovate UK, there were only five projects.

I also feel, some could have significant export opportunities.

 

 

June 18, 2020 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 11 Comments

Universities Study Options For Battery Traction To Replace Diesel

The title of this post, is the same as that as this article on Railway Gazette.

This is the introductory paragraph.

A three-month study of the extent to which battery-powered trains could replace diesel traction in Germany is being undertaken through a collaboration between rolling stock financing company Rock Rail, Technische Universität Dresden and the UK’s University of Birmingham.

In some ways, two Universities and one rolling stock leasing company are strange bedfellows for a study of trains in Germany.

But then Rock Rail are a very successful and surprisingly innovative company, who appear to know their trains. This sentence, is taken from the home page of their web site.

Rock Rail works closely with the franchise train operators and manufacturers to ensure a collaborative approach to design, manufacture and acceptance of the new state of the art trains on time and to budget.

They have certainly been involved in several large fleet orders in the last few years.

I have a feeling that this study will lead to sensible and workable conclusions, that may well have lessons for the UK.

June 5, 2020 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | Leave a comment