This Rolls-Royce Train Can Operate Under Battery Power Alone


Rolls-Royce entered into a new contract to try out hybrid-electric powertrains to replace diesel engines in trains.

As with any news surrounding Rolls-Royce and electrification, this is situated in a specific area and may take a few years before it “rolls” out. The new agreement applies to trains in Britain and may impact hundreds of trains by the 2020s. The contract is with a company called Porterbrook, which Reuters calls “the UK’s largest owner of passenger rolling stock.”

Rolls-Royce focuses on much more than just cars. In fact, the British company is best known for its aircraft engines, as well as engines for trains, trucks, mining vehicles, ships, and yachts. Rolls-Royce Power systems CEO Andreas Schell says that hybrid tech could be the answer for all of the above. He told Reuters:

We expect hybrid technology to grow at above the current growth rates of diesel.

We’re going into serious production now. No more R&D projects, no more demonstrators. Serious production.

Yes, serious production of new hybrid and electrified systems. While it may take some time, Rolls-Royce is setting a course to make the switch. As it turns out, current diesel trains are able to be retrofitted with these new Rolls-Royce Hybrid PowerPacks. Essentially, they’ll become hybrid trains with the ability to run on only battery power alone. The company’s recent press release reads:

The MTU Hybrid PowerPack is an environmentally friendly drive system which combines the advantages of diesel and battery-powered rail traction. The version for Porterbrook incorporates an MTU diesel engine which fulfills future EU Stage V emissions regulations; plus an electric machine, which can be used either as an electric motor or generator; and an MTU EnergyPack battery system, which stores the energy recovered during braking. This enables very low-noise, emissions-free battery-only electric operation in urban areas and around stations.

This is all in support of Britain’s goal to rid of diesel-only trains by 2040. While the new systems are only set to be partially electrified, this is a step in the right direction, and further adaptations could be made in the interim. Currently, Britain has about 42 percent of its trains electrified, which is surprisingly still behind other European countries. With Rolls-Royce’s efforts, this may change in the coming years.

The new trial will begin in 2020 on two test trains and continue to progress after the initial studies.

Source: Reuters

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18 Comments on "This Rolls-Royce Train Can Operate Under Battery Power Alone"

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A 3rd rail in between the tracks with a wedge where an arm from the bottom of the train alone can touch and draw power should be designed and built. This way, the vehicles and passengers who go over it will not be affected.

This type of 3rd rail built every alternative kilometer with some battery in the train can be combined to phase out the diesel trains slowly. It can easily be done in a smaller country like Britain.

A 3rd rail will definitely be much cheaper than overhead traction with the supporting poles.

The traction voltage is typically 25 kV AC. Difficult to insulate such high voltages in the third rail. There are other issues like critters getting in, rain/water incursion etc. Yes, the overhead wire is very expensive. But so far it is the best. If inductive power transfer is possible, they could seal the unit in waterproof plastic and transfer power without contact. But till that happens we are stuck with overhead wires and the pantographs.

Not the best. Winter and summer months the lines go down

25 kV is generally only used for dedicated high-speed rail lines. Traditional rail electrification is more typically 3 kV – 15 kV, depending on country. Still too much for a third rail though, which is generally below 1 kV AFAIK.

That’s not, strictly speaking, entirely true. In most countries one system is used pretty much across the board for full-sized trains, regardless of how fast they go. In the “DACH” countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) plus Norway and Sweden and Denmark the voltage is 15 kV AC at 16.7 Hz, while the rest of Europe mostly uses 25 kV 50 Hz, with some small areas (and Spain and Italy) using either 3 kV or 1.5 kV DC. Spain’s high speed lines are, however, like you said, 25 kV 50 Hz.

No European country uses 25 kV across the board. 25 kV is used for dedicated high-speed lines in countries like France, where the “traditional” net uses considerably lower voltage.

Germany gets away with a single voltage, since they always had 15 kV, which is good enough for high-speed rail, too… Though arguable that makes high-speed rail in Germany considerably less useful, as sharing tracks with other services to save costs results in more delays.

They do have that third rail it’s in NYC on the metro north

I believe they have a BEv training UK that does that

Third rail is used regularly for subways and other low-speed local trains; but it doesn’t allow for enough voltage to power regular train services.

Some places are investing in battery-powered trains though, to cover spans lacking overhead traction… That seems a good approach to achieve full electrification at a lower cost.

3rd rail, in the UK really only covers portions of the Southern half of England. But that’s infrastructure that was implemented since the 1920s. Where this type of configuration will work best is on stretches of non-electrified lines (which is way more common if you go west), and like with electric buses certain stations where appropriate would have an island of over head lines for a photograph to reach. Think of a 150m stretch for one station. It’s a far cheaper solution that electrifying a whole line, especially if it’s one that is rural and empty.

Correlation is NOT Causation.

“Rolls-Royce focuses on much more than just cars. In fact, the British company is best known for its aircraft engines”

These are two different Rolls-Royce companies. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is a subsidiary of BMW who licensed the name. Rolls-Royce Holdings makes aircraft engines.

And other than they use the same logo, there is no connection between the companies.

Major editorial faux pas… need better fact checking before posting an article.

Aren’t most diesel railway engines nowadays in fact diesel-electric (i.e. using an electric transmission) anyway? Adding a bunch of batteries to turn it into a hybrid would seem an obvious evolution…

Obvious and easy, just tow along an extra car that is just battery storage.

Yes, I found that repeated error in the article rather distracting. They don’t have to convert railroad locomotives into “hybrid electric powertrains”; nearly all of them in use already are diesel-electric serial hybrid EVs!

The actual change would be conversion from serial hybrid to parallel hybrid EVs.

An electric transmission doesn’t count as hybrid, since it never powers on electricity alone. Adding a battery into the mix turns it into a hybrid. That seems to be exactly what Rolls-Royce is doing here…

(While the article isn’t clear on that, I doubt they are using a parallel hybrid. If electric transmission is preferable even without batteries, there is no reason why a mechanical one would suddenly be preferred in a hybrid…)

Would be better if Rolls Royce Auto (BMW group) would offer some BEV, just a single Phantom prototype “102-EX” in 2011 was made.