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Battery-powered trains possible for Wales

Posted on 03 May 2017 and read 2594 times
Battery-powered trains possible for WalesThe UK Government is not guaranteeing that it will give Wales a promised £125 million contribution for electrifying the Valley Lines, if alternative technology is chosen.

Indeed, a Welsh government transport official has confirmed that it is looking at cheaper alternatives to electrification — including battery-powered trains. These have already been trialled in parts of the UK as replacements for costly (and heavy) diesel trains.

Called independently powered electric multiple units (IPEMUs), the trains are powered by lithium iron magnesium phosphate batteries.

The costs and timescales of railway electrification have risen dramatically since 2014, when David Cameron made the pledge, and this has led the Welsh Government to “take soundings” from rail experts in Europe and Asia onalternatives for the Valley Lines (potentially including new technology such as battery-powered rolling stock): and while a UK Government civil servant said earlier this month that the Department for Transport had not yet decided if the £125 million “would still be available” if an alternative to electrification were chosen, the Welsh Government said it should not be penalised for exploiting technological developments.

Simon Jones, the Welsh Government’s transport director, said: “We might end up with some kind of hybrid solution that involves battery-powered trains, for example. When Mr Cameron made his pledge in 2014, I guess it was envisaged that we would be putting in pylons for the entire length of the Valley Lines.

We may not need to do that because of the way that technology has moved on, but we shouldn’t be penalised for finding a different technological approach to delivering the same outcome.”

Trams belonging to the West Midlands Metro are now being fitted with batteries, so that future lines will not need continuous overhead cables.

This technology is already used in cities such as Nice; and if chosen for the Valley Lines, it could avoid the need to modify difficult structures, possibly including Caerphilly tunnel.

Hybrid trams are another option; they run on electricity in city centres, where air pollution is a concern, and on diesel in less built-up areas.

Porterbrook Leasing, which owns most of the existing Valley Lines trains, told the Assembly committee that hydrogen-powered trains need no overhead cables and are now on test in Germany.