No diesels and no electrification
The new East West railway need not be electrified nor have
any diesel trains. So says Chris Grayling who considers that, instead,
it will have “a completely new generation of low-emissions trains.”
The then transport minister, Jo Johnson, echoed this view
when he challenged the rail industry to get all diesel-only trains off
the track by 2040 as he saw “alternative-fuel trains powered entirely by
hydrogen” to be a prize on the horizon. Later, the Minister directed
the industry task force set up to meet this challenge that further
electrification should not be in the scope of its response.
Yet the reality is that hydrogen, the only viable
alternative traction with range and performance comparable to diesel, is
not suitable for high-powered traction. Due to their conversion losses,
hydrogen trains require three times more electrical energy than
electric trains. Moreover, with its low energy density, compressed
hydrogen requires a fuel tank eight times the size of a diesel tank for
the same range.
Because of this, few in the industry share the
government’s post-2040 rail traction vision of no diesels and no
electrification. For example, Rail Freight Group executive director
Maggie Simpson noted that, whilst battery and hydrogen “may show promise
for lightweight passenger trains, their application for heavy duty
freight is at best unproven”.
Nevertheless, Johnson was right to stress the need to
decarbonise the rail industry. Although railways offer great
environmental benefits, UK rail cannot rest on its laurels. For example,
whilst hybrid cars are increasingly common, there are currently no
hybrid trains on the network.
As part of the industry’s response to this decarbonisation
challenge, RSSB recently ran a conference to launch competitions
offering funding for proposals to develop zero-carbon solutions.
However, reflecting the government’s view, this offered no funding for
electrification initiatives. Nevertheless, the conference heard how both
HS2 and Network Rail are to specify low-carbon traction electricity
supplies. With electric trains comprising 72 per cent of the UK
passenger fleet, this offers huge carbon savings.
As we report, there were also presentations on the
development of battery-hybrid and hydrogen trains. On rural routes that
cannot realistically be electrified, hydrogen could offer zero-carbon
traction with no harmful local emissions, although it was stressed that
this was no silver bullet.
The potential to use redundant multiple units to develop
such trains is also described by Malcolm Dobell, who recently had the
opportunity to try out the Class 769 Flex unit prior to it entering
service early next year. Over 150 new rail vehicles were on show at
InnoTrans, which, as Nigel Wordsworth describes, had over 3,000
exhibitors in its 41 halls.
A wide variety of trains, old and new, were seen on the
IMechE Railway Division’s technical tour to Italy and Switzerland. As we
report, this was a good development opportunity for the large
contingent of younger engineers present.
Authorisation of the energisation of the OLE between
Didcot and Swindon requires approval from Network Rail’s regional head
of engineering and its principal system safety engineer, as well as the
leads from assessment and notification bodies. The four women who occupy
these senior positions were interviewed by Stewart Thorpe for his
feature that considers why women make up only 15 per cent of the railway
This month we focus on electrification with an article by
Richard Ollerenshaw that explains how electrification can be delivered
in a cost-effective manner, as is done on the European continent. We
also have features on safer DC isolations, research into better 25kV AC
railway traction supply arrangements and an initiative to monitor OLE
using an in-service passenger train.
OLE is just one aspect of rail infrastructure that is
monitored by the New Measurement Train, which, as Chris Parker reports,
covers 115,000 miles per year. His feature details the train’s
capabilities and the challenges of ensuring it runs on every part of
No trains ran on the 60-mile rural route between Stranraer
and Ayr for two months recently. As we report, this was due to an
adjacent dangerous building that continues to cause short-formed
commuter services. No doubt, the ScotRail Alliance is doing all it can
to restore a normal train service, yet the building is under the control
of the local Council. Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from this
episode to avoid any such future lengthy service disruption.
Over the past 35 years, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire
Steam Railway has laid and re-opened 14 miles of track and five
stations. It also had to build four signal boxes and re-equip another.
In a feature that describes how the line was signalled as it
progressively re-opened, Clive Kessell shows how this demanded creative
thinking and bargain basement procurement.
Our other signalling feature is a sobering piece by Paul
Darlington that is essential reading for anyone involved in signalling
projects. This concerns the RAIB report into last year’s derailment at
Waterloo. The mistakes that led to this incident, together with similar
failings during the Cardiff re-signalling project, could, in different
circumstances, have had awful consequences and show the need to relearn
lessons from the 1988 Clapham tragedy.