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Power-train plans

Modern trains can be powered by a wide variety of fuels including nuclear, biofuels, solar, batteries, hydrogen and gas. However, the most dominant fuel source for powering the global railroad industry today remains diesel and electric – although coal or wood-burning steam trains still exist on some tourist lines as well as in remote parts of China. Nicholas Newman reports on some of the latest fuelling developments in this sector.


n Europe, an electric high speed train departing Brussels at 300 km/h for London or Paris is just as likely to be

powered by a French nuclear power sta- tion, a Dutch offshore wind farm, a Norwegian hydro-dam, a German coal- fired power station or even by rail-side solar panels. Development of the three- phase electric drive since 2000 has encouraged the adoption of regenera- tive braking which, according to Jeremy Acklam of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, is ‘the greatest recent advance in rail energy technology’. The subsquent cost savings have led regen- erative braking and batteries to become increasingly popular as a fuel source for both suburban train and tram networks throughout Europe. The current array of rail energy

related technological R&D covers a wide field. Engineers are experimenting with innovative technologies such as lithium batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, fly wheels and natural gas. There are even tenta- tive Russian plans envisioning the

GE Evolution Series locomotive

prospect of nuclear powered trains. However, technologies such as nuclear power and hydrogen fuel cells ‘… are unlikely to deliver the required rail safety certification (eg for crash-tests)’, comments Acklam. The past century has also seen

immense advances in productivity and efficiency across diesel, diesel-electric hybrid and electric motive power. For example, fuel efficiency for US railroads has increased by 85%in the last 25 years alone, according to transport consul- tancy Garner Enterprises in April 2013.

Has diesel got a future? Pioneered in the 1930s by the Swiss Locomotive builder Sulzer, diesel loco- motives for both passenger and freight largely replaced steamin Europe and the US during the 1950s. Diesel traction offered significantly lower operating and maintenance costs, allowing rail freight to become competitive with road. Today, a freight train can move a tonne of cargo an average of 457 miles

Source: GE

Rai l

on a single gallon of fuel, comparedwith 134 miles for a truck (‘lorry’ in the UK), reportsUS railroad CSX.According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in January 2011 freight railwayswere 1.9 to 5.5 timesmore fuel efficient than trucks. There are two different types of diesel

locomotives. The first is the diesel mechanical locomotive equipped with an engine similar to those used in diesel cars and trucks, mainly employed for shunting in goods yards or ports. The second type of diesel locomotive fea- tures a combination diesel and electric engine, and became the motive power of choice during the 1970s. As an example, Australia’s XPT intercity train linking Adelaide with Sydney and Melbourne, utilises a Paxman VP185 12-cylinder, turbo-charged diesel electric engine boasting 1,492 kW, or 2,000 horsepower (hp). Although much cleaner than steam

trains, the increasingly strict environ- mental regulations of recent times are driving efforts to further clean up diesel powered trains. Today, train manufac- turers such as GE and ABB are offering new technologies to make diesel trains quieter, cleaner and more fuel efficient. For instance,

in August 2012, GE

Transportation announced the introduc- tion of its latest fuel efficient heavy-haul Evolution Series Locomotive, which is claimed to cut emissions by more than 70% when compared to 2005 tech- nology. According to a GE spokesperson: ‘It saves railroad customers more than $1.5bn in infrastructure and operational costs.’ Also,

since 2001, Railpower

Technologies’ Green Goat design – a type of combined hybrid switching loco- motive, utilising a small diesel engine and a large bank of rechargeable bat- teries – has proved ideal for ports, large industrial complexes and urban situa- tions where trains tend to be idle for much of the time and town dwellers’ sensitivity over noise and pollution are important considerations.

Solar boosts high speed trains Since 2009, the rail industry has taken an active interest in solar power. It is no longer just the preserve of toy trains or university

research departments.

Increasingly, the rail industry is using solar power to provide energy for its lighting, customer information signage, signals and stations. For example, in London, the Blackfriars mainline station is using 4,400 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate an estimated 900,000 kWh of electricity every year. This meets 50% of the station’s energy

requirements whilst reducing CO2 emis- sions by an estimated 490 t/y, reports UK track authority Network Rail.



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