Case Study

Battery power vehicles: Viability for low-traffic routes

Battery power vehicles: Viability for low-traffic routes
Published: 19 September 2018 Client name: Province of Friesland Service provided: Texchnical Consultancy

Exploring the viability for battery-powered trains on low-traffic routes

In 2018 we produced a research report to explore the potential for introducing battery-powered trains on sections of national networks where low traffic means full electrification is not feasible.  

The study was commissioned by the northern Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen. The local authorities in these provinces had previously committed to implementing emission-free rail transport within their jurisdictions.

The conclusions of the study – conducted jointly with Arcadis, a design and engineering consultancy - suggested that by enabling batteries to re-charge during standstill periods at turning points, and supported by an appropriate range extension solution, rail vehicles in the region could operate entirely by battery power within just a few years.

A viable low-carbon option

Earlier studies of the provinces by Ricardo had established that the costs of converting the existing diesel networks to electric traction would prove prohibitive.

For this project, Ricardo and Arcadis were commissioned to explore whether battery-powered trains would suit the region’s mix of short turnarounds and relatively long routes.

Martijn Wolf, sustainability consultant at Ricardo, was a member of the research team: “We examined a range of existing and developing rolling stock, battery and charging technologies, including the use of batteries on bus networks, to look at techniques that could be successfully transferred to the rail environment.”

The study focused on whether it was possible to fit trains with batteries that could be charged during standstill at turning points, so-called 'opportunity charging'. This would be bolstered by an appropriate range-extender solution to enable the vehicles to complete a fulfil a full timetable each day without carrying extra batteries.

The study proposed two viable range-extender options:

  • Partial electrification: This would involve installing partial catenaries along stretches of longer routes so that the trains could charge during operation as well as during station stops.
  • Hydrogen: Converting hydrogen in a fuel cell into electricity to charge the batteries and/or directly provide the vehicle with power.

The project team modelled a range of partial electrification scenarios, from 4km of overhead electrification (representing 1.5 % of the non-electrified network) rising to 10.5km (4%). The goal was to determine the best approach; one that would complement station-based recharging points.

“This final scenario (10.5km of additional electrification) offered sufficient capacity to operate a full timetable,” said Martijn. “Moreover, with this additional length of overhead line, our simulations showed that the number of station recharging facilities could be reduced, which would lower some of the infrastructure costs.”

The study concluded that ‘zero-emission’ trains would be feasible in the region within seven to ten years, with both Friesland and Groningen provinces, and the regional operator, Arriva, could proceed with greater understanding of the costs and the modifications needed.

A copy of the study is available from the Province of Friesland website (published in Dutch).

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