Hydrogen fuel-cell and battery bio-mode technologies
In July, the Government made two contrasting policy announcements. For many, plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 sat uneasily with scrapping plans to electrify three major rail lines and instructing train operators to buy bi- mode trains with part-diesel engines.
Going back to diesel on the railways isn’t the only answer. Innovative, more efficient electrification programmes, and battery and hydrogen fuel- cell bi-modes can save us time, money and emissions.
Where practical, electrification remains the best option to deliver a low-carbon, sustainable rail network. Electric trains accelerate more quickly (cutting journey times), emissions are reduced, and the quieter and cleaner rolling stock is cheaper to operate.
Cost remains a challenge. But we agree with Sir Peter Hansford’s recommendations for encouraging third- party investment in the rail network, and believe electrification and power supply upgrades can be delivered more efficiently by the private sector.
However, it may take some time to put in place the risk and reward mechanisms that enable private sector electrification schemes.
In the meantime, there are cleaner, greener and more costefficient alternatives to bi-mode diesel that the industry must focus on.
Siemens is already developing new technologies which allow bi- mode trains to be part- powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel-cells - reducing emissions, cutting journey times and improving passenger experiences.
Battery-powered bi-mode rolling stock is better suited to shorter distances off-wire.
The battery would provide back-up power for an unelectrified section of a route. So, for example, if a tunnel proved too difficult or expensive to electrify, the battery could be used to get the train through the tunnel instead.
Hydrogen-powered rolling stock operates more effectively on longer distances. It is much cleaner than diesel - it only emits water vapour as opposed to NOx or carbon dioxide. While there are currently range limitations resulting from only being able to store hydrogen gas on trains, technology is being developed which will soon allow us to store liquid hydrogen on trains to resolve this issue.
Batteries and hydrogen fuel-cells hold significant potential for the future of the digital railway, and will provide a stepchange in train performance and passenger experience.
However, to create a railway that is environmentally friendly in the long-term, we still need to see railway infrastructure electrified and power supplies increased. We should be looking to the private sector to help do this.
Graeme Clark, Head of Business Development - Rolling Stock for Rail Systems, Siemens UK