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ScotRail Ditches Diesel in Favour of Battery-powered Trains

Dominique Adams

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Newly unveiled plans could see ScotRail become the first UK train operator to run a battery-powered fleet of trains. 

Hitachi Rail Europe has confirmed it plans to add batteries to the new electric trains it is building for ScotRail.

The Japanese company has a contract with ScotRail for the provision and maintenance of 70 new Class 385 electric trains, which will become the train operator’s largest fleet.

The addition of the batteries to the trains would extend ScotRail’s range onto non-electrified sections of track, replacing the older diesel trains required to service these lines now. Currently, 29% of the UK’s fleet is diesel-powered.

Electric trains are already one-fifth more energy efficient than traditional diesel trains. However, the introduction of battery-powered trains would further reduce their carbon footprint significantly as they run with zero emissions. The newer and better-equipped trains would also bring significantly more comfort to passengers.

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The battery-powered trains can run for up to 60 miles, and recharging would take only ten to 15 minutes according to Hitachi. This range of distance means the trains could run beyond Dunblane and go as far as Perth and Dundee.

Hitachi has suggested they can also be used on other routes including from Glasgow to East Kilbride and Kilmarnock, and on a Glasgow northern suburban line to Anniesland via Maryhill.

For the past 15 years, the Japanese company has been developing alternative train fuel technology and has built the world’s only passenger train running on batteries, in southern Japan. Hitachi’s Dencha – dual energy charge train has been operating since 2016.

A spokesman for Hitachi told The Scotsman: “There are various options for the Class 385s, including installing batteries underneath.

“It would provide greater flexibility for the operator and save a huge amount in electrification costs. It would make ScotRail the first alternatively-fuelled passenger train operator in the UK.”

The plans follow hot on the heels of train maker Vivarail’s announcement that it had successfully trialled and demonstrated the capabilities of its battery-powered Class 230 train.

Tested on the heritage Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway last October, the company reported the results to the Department of Transport (DfT) and Innovate UK as part of a 12-month project, supported by a grant from the Accelerating Innovation in Rail competition, funded by the DfT and delivered by InnovateUK.

Last year, the UK government announced plans to phase out Diesel-only trains by 2040. To achieve this goal, it would require further electrification of the UK’s railways – as of 2018 only 42% of the UK’s network is electrified – battery-powered trains would mitigate this need and cost.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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