Great Western Railway (GWR) has begun trialling a potentially groundbreaking battery innovation called FastCharge. If the trial is successful, it is hoped that the technology could transform branch line services and accelerate the decarbonisation of the network.
This innovative system, which has been developed over three years, eliminates the need for diesel trains on branch lines by powering battery-operated units with ultra-rapid charging. The system boasts an impressive 2,000kW charging capacity, eight times more powerful than a Tesla Supercharger, allowing trains to fully recharge in just 3.5 minutes at West Ealing station, the trial's first real-world location.
GWR engineering director Dr Simon Green said: “This work has never been done before and we’re leading the way to help the Department for Transport and Network Rail understand what is required to roll out this technology on the UK’s rail network.
“Only now has there been a combination of battery capability and charging technology that enables a branch line train to operate to the same timetable as a diesel unit, and yet still charge safely and with minimal impact on the local grid power supply.”
The FastCharge system is different to other charging technologies. Unlike traditional third-rail systems, with the FastCharge system, the charging rails are only live when the train is present, minimising risks. Additionally, the system utilises two track-side battery banks "trickle-charged" from the grid with a low-power connection, minimising impact on the local power supply.
The potential impact of the technology is significant. GWR simulations indicate a reduction of over 1,700 tons of CO2e emissions annually for GWR alone, while the technology could ultimately electrify the UK's vast network of branch lines, totalling approximately 2,000 miles.
Network Rail interim regional managing director, Rob Cairns, said: “This trial marks an important milestone in sustainable travel in the UK. Rail is already the greenest form of public transport and battery-powered trains have the potential to play an important role in our commitment to a low-emission railway, with a goal of reaching net-zero by 2050.”
Following extensive testing at Long Marston Rail Innovation Centre, GWR's Class 230 battery train is currently undergoing test runs on the network, paving the way for the official Greenford branch line trial. This trial will see the train operate alongside scheduled passenger services, demonstrating its real-world capabilities.
Photo Credit: Great Western Railways