HomeEditor's ViewIssue 170 – No diesels and no electrification

Issue 170 – No diesels and no electrification

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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 workforce.

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 every route.

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.

Read more: New platforms at London Waterloo


David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


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