Interesting thought

Bombardier has struck a deal worth €100m (£89m) to power trains with lithium batteries, in a major milestone that could cut the cost of a multibillion-pound government commitment to fully electrify Britain’s railways by a third.

The train maker has picked Swiss battery specialist Leclanché as its preferred supplier for the next five years.

The deal comes after 18 months of testing and will see the first commercial operation of lithium battery-powered trains on Britain’s railways.

Fewer than half of Britain’s train lines have electrified rails or overhead wires installed, meaning large sections of the network are reliant on more dirty diesel-powered locomotives.

Does the cost of hauling the – heavy – batteries around beat the cost of adding the wires or rails to electrify the line?

I can imagine it does on some very lightly used line crossing some howling wasteland in the middle of fuck all. Say, Cardiff to Newport. And quite possibly not on a major route in London’s suburbs. Say.

But then are the extra costs of the batteries, over diesel, worth the reduction in emissions? Probably not, eh?

22 thoughts on “Interesting thought”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    Also useful when there’s lots of tunnels without much headroom eg Leeds to Manchester?

    As to the economics, in a sane world we’d assume a cost benefit analysis had been carried out and this was the cost effective option. But the government’s track record on railway cost benefits doesn’t have a good track record, to say the least.

  2. Also, I imagine the power losses in the battery recharge cycle will be greater than the losses in the transmission to a moving train.

  3. From an infrastructure perspective, this is plausible – particularly as you can get some charge into the batteries at each station where there’s already ‘leccy etc. rather than invest zillions in overhead wires.

    Battery life etc. is the obvious drawback, but they’re probably not thinking that long term…

  4. Battery electric trains have been around for more than a century. The alternative method of covering sections of line that aren’t economic for electrification is electro-diesels, which are much more common. Some of the new Great Western ‘electrics’ are of this type, allowing them to continue services beyond the electrified section of the route.

    Batteries offer significantly less range, but their weight penalty is comparable to auxiliary diesel motors.

  5. One thing the batteries could be useful for would be smoothing demand: charging as they brake and cruise, discharging as they accelerate. But I suspect an ultra capacitor or flywheel solution would be cheaper and have a much better lifespan

  6. Of course a diesel train would be cheaper, just as a diesel car is cheaper than a battery-powered one. But there is a ministerial target to phase out all diesel trains (and cars) by 2040, no matter how high the cost. Hence idiocy like this.

    Batteries make sense over short stretches where wires can’t be installed, as BiND points out. Hybrid electric/diesel would solve the problem of smelly diesel fumes in stations, particularly enclosed stations. But for careering through open countryside, diesel is cheap, inoffensive, and of proven reliability.

  7. In the future all passenger seats on trains will be equipped with hand or foot cycles to feed electrons to the undercarriage.

  8. From an infrastructure perspective, this is plausible – particularly as you can get some charge into the batteries at each station where there’s already ‘leccy etc. rather than invest zillions in overhead wires.

    Trains hang around at stations for about 30s at most though. Not much time to charge anything.

  9. Is there anyone who has done a published cost / benefit analysis of replacing diesel-electric with battery powered trains?

    I can imagine that regenerative braking could work quite well on certain routes where trains are accelerating / decelerating on a regular basis.

    It all hangs on the relative efficiencies of each transmission / storage method.
    I’m assuming none of the journos reporting this have got the maths to do even a basic, back of an envelope calculation.

  10. @Chris Miller
    It was the first thing I thought of. If this was viable, you’d expect there to be applications where lead/acid tech would have provided the storage capacity. Rail is seemingly the best suited transport for battery power. Predictable usage. Battery weight not a high proportion of the total vehicle mass. Already existent charging facilities.
    But apparently not. Or it’d be common

  11. Trains sometimes crash. Add in Lithium batteries which have a liking for blowing up and that is not a good combo–unless you are a writer for “Thunderbirds”.

    Also the entire dirty diesels cockrot is frankly evil –shifting to lesser technologies because of Marxist eco-freak lies. Bad.

  12. BiND,

    “As to the economics, in a sane world we’d assume a cost benefit analysis had been carried out and this was the cost effective option. But the government’s track record on railway cost benefits doesn’t have a good track record, to say the least.”

    I’m highly sceptical of the value of electrification. It’s costing billions to do the Great Western line. And they come out with things like “17 minutes faster from Bristol”, but that’s because they’re running a new, non-stop service from Bristol Parkway to London Paddington. If it had to stop at Swindon, Didcot and Reading, you’d gain less than 10 minutes.

    Season ticket sales are falling. More and more people are working at home instead of doing long commutes. The growth of rail is short London commutes, not Reading to London.

  13. @Rob

    “Trains hang around at stations for about 30s at most though. Not much time to charge anything.”

    There’s some (Chinese) buses on trial here in HK, and at least one line of the Guangzhou metro that use supercapacitors instead of batteries. Lower capacity but charging in seconds is ideal for things that stop a lot like trams and short bus routes, simply charge at the station only. Whether there’s the capacity to drive a commuter train, I don’t know, I’ve not looked at the numbers. Obviously only suitable for stopping commuter trains rather than long distance fast ones.

  14. There have been a number of trials with installing charging pads at bus stops along routes and at the hubs to top up the battery and extend range, but I haven’t heard much about it for a while so assumed it didn’t pan out as well as hoped

  15. I think the idea is that these trains would be used on short stretches of unelectrified branch line off an electrified main line. They’ll shuttle back and forth and at one end of their route can sit under electric wires and recharge.

  16. I thought I read that the future of non-electrified rail was going to be hydrogen. I’d of thought it’d make more sense to wait for that, although if it comes through maybe the trains could be converted.

  17. ‘dirty diesel-powered locomotives’

    Gill shows he is partisan.

    The goal is to get to Net Zero by this afternoon. Characteristics of diesel – ‘dirty’ (sic) – are not relevant.

  18. Why is it assumed that electric trains and cars will reduce emissions? They don’t, they just move them somewhere else. Lots of nuclear power would help but the last thing that the climate change bed wetters want is a solution that works. It needs saying as often as needed that emissions aren’t a problem anyway.

  19. The ‘dirtiness’ of diesels is a problem where there are local air quality issues. Electrification of the lines out of Paddington has had a small but noticeable effect on the air quality around the railway in West London. In the countryside where most of the non-electrified lines are, this is pretty much a non-problem.

    There are a handful of places — mainly in the SE where battery electric trains could be useful: London Bridge – Uckfield being an obvious example where the frequency of trains (2 per hour) is not enough to be worth the infrastructure cost, but the train is running over electrified track for about half the journey so there’s plenty of time to recharge the battery while on the move; they also only need to do about 35 miles in one go. The Uckfields are the only diesel trains for a long way around so they need their own servicing and fuelling infrastructure which is a cost that would be avoided by switching. The same argument can be made for the remaining diesel services around Hastings/Rye.

    Switching (say) Shrewsbury – Pwllheli where all recharging would have to be done at one end/at stations along the 100-mile+ route is a different matter entirely.

  20. @Matt
    GWR (among other operators) are adding auxiliary diesel engines to old Thameslink electrics for the Oxford-Reading-Gatwick route, which is a combination of overhead, 3rd rail and unelectrified lines. To quote WikiP:
    “The use of various energy storage mediums, including batteries, flywheels, supercapacitors and hydrogen fuel cells were examined, but most were discarded due to the insufficient range provided.”

  21. “I thought I read that the future of non-electrified rail was going to be hydrogen”

    For some reason, I call the Hanna Barbera cartton “Wacky Races” where, if I recall, in one race, the Army Surplus Special won by turning round the turret and using the recoil from firing shells to power them into the lead

  22. “But then are the extra costs of the batteries, over diesel, worth the reduction in emissions?”
    When it comes to reducing emissions, there is no price too high for greens to make you pay.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *