The Anonymous Widower

Low Emission Buses On Hold

One of my Google Alerts has picked up this story on the London South East web site, which is entitled Torotrak Shifts Focus Following Delays In UK Low-Emission Bus Grants.

The report is on this web site, as these buses were trialled in Gillingham.

This is also said in the story.

This uncertainty, coupled with low fuel prices, has caused bus operators to postpone investing in low-emission technologies, Torotrak said. As a result, it and partner Wrightbus will delay further investment in the launch of Torotrak’s KERS technology for buses until the situation becomes clearer.

Torotrak will redeploy its cash resources on other, revenue-generating and near-term commercial opportunities in response to the delays.

Beyond this, Torotrak said its KERS off-highway technology has gained significant traction and said it has seen strong interest in its V-Charge technology from carmakers.

So what might all this mean?

April 22, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Will London Overground Fit On-board Energy Storage To Class 378 Trains?

This may seem to be a ridiculous idea, as why would the Class 378 trains on the London Overground need the ability to use battery power?

But I have just read this article in Rail Technology Magazine entitled Bombardier enters key analysis phase of IPEMU and it is a detailed article on everything Bombardier are doing to convert the prototype IPEMU into a real train, that can be sold to demanding customers.

  • Four different types of battery are being evaluated in Mannheim.
  • A simulated five-year test is being performed.
  • Bombardier are taking a serious look at the branch-line market.
  • Bombardier are evaluating the retrofit market with particular reference to the Class 387 and Class 378 trains.

This is all very sound stuff and in some ways it makes a change to fully-develop the product before launch rather than expect train operators and passengers to find the problems.

One thing that is surprising, is that Class 378 trains are being looked at for the retrofit of on-board energy storage. Marc Phillips of Bombardier is quoted as saying this in the article.

All Electrostars to some degree can be retrofitted with batteries. We are talking the newer generation EMU as well as the older generation. So, the 387s and 378s are the ones where we have re-gen braking where we can top-up the batteries and use the braking energy to charge the batteries. That gives us the best cost-benefit over operational life.

So it would seem that the Class 378 trains of the London Overground are candidates for fitting with batteries. As the trains handle their routes with ease and there doesn’t appear to be any lines without electrification, where anybody has speculated they might run, the only reason to fit them with batteries would be to capture and reuse all that braking energy.

It is an interesting proposition where the decision to fit batteries will depend totally on the accountants.

Obviously, there will be a cost to fit batteries, but as they wouldn’t need to propel the train for large distances, where there is no electrification, the specification could be quite relaxed.

  • The capacity would have to be sufficient to hold the maximum braking energy of a full train.
  • The battery technology would have to be able to handle the demanding stop/start regime of London Overground services.
  • The system must be easy to fit to the existing trains.
  • The battery capacity should probably be sufficient to move a stalled train into the nearest station.

A worst case scenario for moving a stalled train, would be hauling a train out of the Thames Tunnel after a failure of the power to the third-rail.

I have a feeling that traditional battery storage is not the best way to handle this application, as it is one that could be met by a larger version of the KERS system used in Formula One. KERS has already been applied successfully to buses, and I wrote about that in Could IPEMU Trains Use KERS?

You can do a simple calculation, which gives the kinetic energy of a hundred and sixty tonnes Class 378 moving at twenty metres per second, which is about two thirds of maximum speed and probably a typical service speed. The kinetic energy of such a train is 3.2 Mega Joules or 0.89 kWh. As an aside, I pay 10.73p for each kWh.

If a train has regenerative braking as Class 378 trains do, this energy can be returned through the overhead wires or third rail and used by other trains on the rail network, if the lines are setup to receive the energy. But it relies on another train being able to pick up the electricity and there are inevitable loses in the complicated transfer of the electricity.

On the other hand, if the train has on-board energy storage, it can store the energy and use it when it starts again at the station. This is a more efficient process.

It should also be noted that over the last year, all fifty-seven four car Class 378 trains have been upgraded to five cars. Does the fifth car have the wiring to incorporate an energy storage device? I would be surprised if it didn’t and that the train software is now capable of being upgraded to incorporate on-board energy storage.

I have no idea how much electricity would be saved by regenerative braking on the London Overground, but various applications of regenerative braking technology talk of electricity savings of between ten and twenty percent.

I think it is only a matter of time before the technology is proven to be sufficiently reliable and the numbers add up correctly for the Class 378 trains to be fitted with on-board energy storage.

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 6 Comments

Could IPEMU Trains Use KERS?

I have just read this article on The Business Desk, which is entitled Torotrak’s bus KERS system gets all-clear. The article starts like this.

Torotrak, a developer and supplier of emissions reduction and fuel efficiency technology in vehicles, and Wrightbus are celebrating the successful completion of the in-service trial of the Flybrid mechanical kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) for buses.

The trial was conducted with Arriva, one of the largest bus operators in the UK.

It must have been successful, as other reports say Torotrak shares have risen and the company is expected to start production of the Flybrid KERS in 2016.

I’m probably not the only engineer, who’s wondering, whether the technology can have applications with trains.

My one regret is that I only bought a thousand pounds worth of shares in the company.

January 5, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | 4 Comments

Other Train, Tram And Tram-Train Manufacturers And IPEMUs

The Aventra IPEMU is a Bombardier product, but I can’t see anything about using batteries in a train being patentable.

In the future we will see a range of energy storage devices based on all sorts of technology for transport applications. Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems describes the technology in Wikipedia

To deliver energy saving in transport, they need to be installed with regenerative braking and some clever control systems.

They are best generally described as kinetic energy recovery systems or KERS.

Applications will include.

  • Passenger Cars  – A sexy image would sell top-of-the-range hybrid and electric cars.
  • Buses – Hybrid and electric buses in cities are the way forward and they’ll need intelligent energy storage.
  • Trucks, Vans and other Commercial Vehicles – Why not, if it makes them more attractive to operators and makes vehicles more environmentally friendly?
  • Trams, Trains and Tram-Trains – The Aventra IPEMU is just the first.

Looking at KERS in motor sport and Formula One in particular, in Wikipedia, there are several ideas, some of which are based on batteries and others on mechanical systems like flywheels.

As buses, trams, trains and tram-trains tend to be large vehicles with plenty of available space, where quite a large KERS can be tucked away, it is probably not the demanding weight-sensitive application of say motor sport or passenger cars.

So I don’t see any reason why a train or bus manufacturer like Alstom, Hitachi, Siemens or Wrightbus will not fit KERS.

Wrightbus are mentioned in this press release from Torotrak entitled FUEL SAVING KINETIC RECOVERY SYSTEM PROJECT READY FOR NEXT PHASE. This is the first paragraph.

Wrightbus have confirmed that an innovative Kinetic Recovery System (KERS) project, developed in a collaborative partnership and partially funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, is in full service trials with project partner Arriva.

Overall, this project looks very like the partnership that created the IPEMU demonstrator to prove the technology for trains, as it involves a bus manufacturer, a couple of technology or engineering companies, a transport operator and funding from the Government.

Incidentally, Torotrak is a British company with links to BAe Systems.

According to the press release the prototype bus is in service in Gillingham in Kent.

I can’t believe that the other train manufacturers are not looking seriously at KERS.

It is interesting to look at this article from Bus and Coach, which describes the Wrightbus project.

It is complicated mechanical setup, compared to installing KERS in an all-electric tram, train or tram-train, where it is a matter of designing an intelligent control system to link.

  • Overhead electric supply at 25 kVAC or 750 VDC
  • Third rail supply at 750 VDC
  • Traction motors
  • KERS
  • On-board electrical systems like air-con, lights and passenger displays

The control system would balance the sources and needs according to route and load.

I think that any train manufacturer that doesn’t offer KERS  as standard on a train or tram will be an also-ran!




September 29, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts On Electrification

This document is for your eyes only and is to brief you for Monday.

By chance, a few days ago, I happened to go to Manchester with two guys from one of the big insurance companies, who are in to financing infrastructure like housing, office complexes, ports and shopping centres.

Their thoughts led me to this way of thinking.

The Problems Of Electrification

We all know of the problems of electrification and the related one of too few independent powered multiple units.

A few things I have seen and thought.

  • Northern Rail has cut back the service between Liverpool and Blackpool to Preston, except for a couple of services. Have they given up temporarily on Blackpool ever getting electrified?
  • I feel that electrification is suffering from a lack of resources.
  • Electrification in the North West is suffering terrible ground problems.
  • The October edition of Modern Railways is saying that there is uncertainty over the start date for the Gospel Oak to Barking electrification.
  • If I was looking for conspiracy theories, all references to Midland Main Line electrification has been removed from Wikipedia.
  • When a few weeks ago I visited all work between Preston and Blackpool had ceased and they’d tidied it all up. But bridges and platforms looked like they were ready for new four-car electric trains. I wrote What’s Gone Wrong With The Blackpool To Preston Electrification?
  • Then today, I went to look at the electrification on the Chase Line and wrote Up And Down The Chase Line.

In both the Blackpool and Chase Lines electrification, they would have appeared to have rebuilt the bridges and lengthened the platforms, but had then tidied up and gone away. There were no piles of uninstalled steelwork for the overhead lines, you see up and down the GWR.

Electrification is said to be paused. These looked very much like long ones to have a serious think about it.

But both lines would accept a four-car diesel multiple unit immediately.

The Aventra IPEMU

Help is at hand in the shape of the new Aventra IPEMU train. ( IPEMU stands for Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit)

An Artist's Impression Of The Proposed Aventra

An Artist’s Impression Of The Proposed Aventra

These are facts about the Aventra and its IPEMU variant.

  • The Aventra should be a modern train, to as high a standard as any train anywhere.
  • Aventras will start to be delivered by the end of 2017.
  • All the train and manufacturing technology has been proven for years or is running in the latest Electrostars.
  • There has not been one adverse comment on the Class 379 IPEMU Demonstrator, that I can find.
  • The Class 379 IPEMU Demonstrator was financed by Abellio Greater Anglia, Bombardier and Network Rail.
  • I rode the test train and the on-board engineer told me the performance on battery was the same as an unmodified train and that it had a range of up to 60 miles without overhead power.
  • Bombardier have sent me documents that say that all Aventra trains will have the capacity to run as IPEMUs by the addition of an appropriate energy storage device like a battery or supercapacitor.
  • Aventras can be introduced on to any line that can handle a modern four car diesel multiple unit, where there is enough electrification at one or both ends.
  • Aventras can be changed from standard to IPEMU variant to fit the numbers required for schedules.
  • I do wonder if all Aventras would have an IPEMU capability, as this must make operation easier for train companies. If all trains had energy storage, would depots be wire-free for a start?
  • There will certainly be 110 mph Aventras, but will they go even faster to say 125 mph?
  • Aventras have regenerative braking and may be lighter than Electrostars.
  • An engineer who worked on the InterCity 125 said to me, that aerodynamic drag on trains is one of the biggest problems. It also goes up with the square of the speed. An Aventra with its smooth front end will need less power than a corresponding Electrostar.
  • There is also a paradox with rolling resistance of steel wheels on steel rails. The more heavily-loaded a train, the less the rolling resistance!

Various rumours are circulating that train operating companies are considering ordering IPEMUs.

  • GWR were mentioned in the September Modern Railways.
  • Merseyrail were mentioned in the October Modern Railways.

So the concept must have impressed people with cheque-books.

With my electrical engineering hat on, I would add.

  • BAe Systems, GKN and others are experimenting with flywheels as energy storage devices for buses and other large road vehicles and specialist applications like KERS in Formula One. I suspect that the technology will end up in trains. Modern Railways is also talking this month about KERS for the Class 230.
  • Retrofiting new and improved energy storage systems will be a very simple operation.
  • Switching from overhead line or third rail power to battery could be totally automatic and controlled by GPS and ERTMS.
  • Some routes like York-Scarborough, may be a bit long for the Aventra IPEMU, as although the train could easily do one-way on batteries, going out and back would not be possible.  Some form of charging system, whilst in the terminal platform must be possible. A modern third-rail system in stations? Or a short length of overhead wiring as has been installed at Rugeley Trent Valley.
  • Say an Aventra IPEMU was going at 100 mph towards a terminal station, as trains do on many unelectrified lines in the UK. How much energy would be put into the battery by regenerative braking as the train stopped in the station. So calculations of an out-and-back range are complicated and could be much longer than expeced.
  • Smart driving systems linked to GPS, ERTMS and people counting and weight calculating software will improve range. As a control engineer, I would never underestimate how far the perfect automatic driver might take a train on a full charge on a predictable route.

Overall, I think that the range of an Aventra IPEMU on batteries will grow! At present all published range figures are based on  a cobbled-together prototype, based on an Electrostar built using ten-year old technology. Bombardier have probably created a computer simulation of a definitive Aventra IPEMU, with fully integrated systems running over known routes, which would give true figures.

When the final figure is announced prepare to be surprised!

Where Could An Aventra IPEMU Be Used?

Basically anywhere, where one or both ends of the line are electrified. How about?

  • Gospel Oak to Barking – There is enough electrification at the Barking end, especially if the extension to Barking Riverside was built first. It would immediately release eight Class 172s.
  • Manchester to Leeds by all routes including Huddersfield and Caldervale. – It’s well under 60 miles and could give Liverpool to Newcastle in under two and a half hours without any more expensive electrification.
  • Cardiff Valleys Lines – Electrification has been costed at £350million. At £8million or so for an Aventra IPEMU, it must be cheaper to cut back on the electrification and buy some new trains. No more London cast-offs!
  • Hexham to Middlesbrough – It would need some electrification at Middlesbrough.
  • Bristol and Teesside Metros and expansion and modernisation of local train services in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle.
  • Edinburgh to Tweedbank
  • St. Pancras to Hastings and Eastbourne via Ashford.
  • Salisbury to Exeter – Probably too long now, but once the technology is proven and a small amount of electrification was put in at Exeter and Salisbury, I think this line will go electric.
  • St.Pancras to Corby and Leicester. – This is probably possible and could lead to an interesting philosophy for electrifying the Midland Main Line.

Many routes would need little or no modification, other than to allow four-car trains and adjustments to track and signalling, most of which could be done without too much inconvenience to passengers and train companies.

I am going to see what proportion of the country can be served by Aventra IPEMUs. I suspect, it’s upward of more than fifty percent.

The places that can’t be served are not very many.

  • The South-West
  • Chiltern
  • North Wales
  • North of Scotland
  • Cumbria
  • Lincolnshire
  • Around Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield – Until Midland Main Line Electrification.

Some of these like the Devon lines, could be served by Class 230s. Unless it was decided to install  a short stretch of third-rail electrification at Exeter, to charge the Aventra IPEMUs.

I think that until proven otherwise,Class 230s trains may join the pile of heroic failures. The Aventra IPEMU can do many of its routes and would be so much better.

Would you prefer a refurbished Ford to a new Jaguar?

Property Development

This may seem a long way from electric trains, but my travelling companions and their eyes like cash registers, got me thinking.

Let’s take an isolated town or city served by a tired branch line or crap trains. Lowestoft, Scarborough, Bury St. Edmunds, Weston Super Mare or Barrow-in-Furness for example. One of my companions suggested the latter!

In many cases, there is a package to be put together of new electric trains, rebuilding the area around the station with new commercial and residential development, that the local authority would find attractive. If the trains were sexy new electric ones, that could take you a lot further than the next large town, they would up the value of the package to the local authority considerably.

These packages would be very easily funded by say large insurance companies, as all the risks are well known and predictable. Once Aventra IPEMUs have proved themselves in service, they will have a risk profile on investment.

Political Considerations

Not my field!

But consider.

  • Replacing Pacers in many places is just putting in new trains. In others, it’s using the better examples of the displaced diesel multiple units.
  • There are arguments to perform electrification in a series of smaller projects, that minimise disruption to passengers, train companies and services.
  • Will any politician object to new British-built trains appearing in large numbers? Especially in his or her patch!
  • Some people object to all of money spent on the railways. Reducing the money spent can only give political advantage!
  • New trains are visible, schemes like Great Northern Great Eastern Joint Line or ERTMS are not!
  • In many parts of the UK, there is a perception that London gets all the investment . With Aventra IPEMUs the investment is spread around.

But surely the biggest political factor, is that elected representatives will get much greater control of the railways in their area.


Would politicians and people think that their train service couldn’t possibly be improved by a Mickey Mouse concept of large milk-floats with seats?

Bombardier have financial problems and probably not enough capacity in Derby.


I think the concept could be mind-blowing and could transform the UK.

I can’t believe that all this has not been put together before and this led me to the trial of the Class 379 BEMU, which I thought until I rode it and looked at the maths and physics would be a total disaster. There’s a BBC video.

What do the three partners get out of it?

  • Bombardier are hoping the technology will sell more trains, other than the few trams, they’ve sold to Nanjing.
  • Network Rail remove a lot of difficult lines from the need for electrification. No more dealing with Nimbys, bats, newts, terrible ground conditions and the militant wing of the heritage lobby.
  • Abellio at present have three franchises with a lot of lines that could use trains able to run for sixty miles without an external power source. They must know the likely benefits of introducing a new electric service and how much new trains would return.

It does seem that using Aventra IPEMUs is one of these things that just seems too good to be true!

But then if you understand the physics of rolling resistance of steel wheels on steel rails, the improving capabilities of modern energy storage and what modern automatic control systems can perform, it all looks to be not magic but superb engineering from many different fields coming together.

It has all the aura of one of those brilliant concepts put together in a pub, whilst under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol and drawn and written down on the back of those special fag packets and envelopes that engineers use.

I must admit, that I can’t understand, why someone hasn’t done it before.

The only reason I can think of, is that countries like France, Germany, Italy and Japan have had electrified railways for years and so they don’t have the problems we have of unelectrified railways.


September 25, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | Leave a comment