Make way for the D-Train

Source: RTM April/May 2018

Adrian Shooter, chairman of Vivarail and former chairman of Chiltern Railways, provides an exclusive update on D-Train technology and talks about what’s in store for the rest of the year.

When the ministerial announcement that all diesel trains were to be phased out by 2040 came, one company was in a position to congratulate itself: Vivarail.

When Jo Johnson spoke, we had already been test running our first battery train at the Quinton Rail Technology Centre (QRTC) for a year. This prototype train was clocking up the miles using two lithium ion batteries – originally from the IPEMU trial – with a diesel genset simulating the power source. The results were so impressive that Vivarail made the decision, and investment, to start work on a two-car production battery unit. So just why was the UK’s smallest and newest train manufacturer willing to take what many would perceive as quite a risk?

We set out to design a modular train – one that could draw power from any available source. The train does not mind at all whether that’s diesel, electricity, batteries or even fuel cells. It is just looking for 750v DC.

A lot has been said about our decision to use the bodyshells and bogies from the D78s, but from the start I saw that as a means to an end. The barriers to entry to the market are high, and there was no way we could have made that investment. However, with those two elements already in place we were able to do the more exciting bit: develop new ideas. 

Automatic Charging Point system

Of course, we would love to have endless funding – but because we haven’t we must play to our other strengths, and being creative and willing to try new things is key. That’s where I see our future success – the technology we have developed and patented will stand the test of time. These things aren’t limited to use on the Class 230s; the modular power units we have designed will be used on our next generation of trains. And I believe that the Automatic Charging Point (ACP) system we are currently working on will set a standard for years to come.

The ACP is something the company is particularly proud of. With the award of a grant from Innovate UK, Vivarail set out to solve the problem of how to run battery trains on non-electrified lines. The ACP is a simple piece of kit that enables the batteries to recharge at a stop point. The driver merely stops the train, the ACP detects the train is in place and becomes live. When the driver is ready to pull away, the system shuts itself down until required again.

The ACP could be connected up to an existing available power source, but Vivarail’s battery expert, Pete Mason, believed there was a better way.

The company has now designed a ‘battery bank,’ which is essentially a large container full of batteries, and it’s the bank that is connected to the power source, not the track. The battery bank can recharge slowly – and most cost-effectively overnight – and is then able to ‘dump’ it all into the train in a very short space of time. It’s exactly how many of the car charging points at motorway stations work – and Vivarail is no stranger to making use of smart ideas from other industries.

One solution for different routes

With trains, the rates of charge and the depth of discharge are crucial and have been intensively investigated. Vivarail is confident that battery trains could easily run on lines such as the Thames Branches where the distance is short, gradients flat and there is plenty of time to recharge at the termini. However, the Class 230 is likely to be used on very different types of line with many more challenges.

Vivarail has looked in depth at nearly 20 different routes and discovered that all are possible to operate. The lines vary from discreet routes miles from anywhere, to metro lines with steep gradients and little time to recharge at the terminus. So far, the data shows that distances of 20 miles between recharge are possible for both two- and three-car units, which means the number of potential applications is still wide. 

With the continuing push for novel and environmentally-friendly technologies to be applied to the UK’s rolling stock, Vivarail believes the decision to build the UK’s first production battery train is validated.

The train is due to begin testing at QRTC shortly and is expected to be fully approved for passenger use in summer. Vivarail then plans to use it as a demonstrator where, accompanied by a mobile battery bank, it may well be seen on a line near you later this year!


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