back to article Emissions-slashing hybrid trains to hit tracks in Europe

Japanese manufacturer Hitachi Rail and Italy's Trenitalia have unveiled a triple hybrid locomotive that they claim halves carbon emission compared with the trains they replace. The "Blues train" is suitable to carry passengers throughout the European network and is powered by a combination of batteries, electric cable, and …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Transport for the masses?

    Investment from this govt?


  2. Ol'Peculier

    When in a station, If they can switch to battery power (and possibly recharge at the same time) then this needs bringing over here now. The rumblings from the locos in my local station are a major noise nuisance, and caused a newly built multi-million-pound servicing depot to be effectively abandoned.

    1. Lon24

      Electrified lines are the way to go. But, as we know, overhead electrification can cost both arms and three legs on a legacy system with low tunnels and bridges. That takes nearly all the budget and causes chaos so it doesn't get done.

      Hybrid diesel or batteries is a solution, but is it the best solution for filling in the awkward bits? Southern who had the most dense and complex network did the whole lot with a third rail. Doesn't need bridges or tunnels being modified/replaced. It has its disadvantages. Speed and power is more limited so you don't want to major on it these days.

      However is hybrid overhead/third rail is a better all electric lower cost solution? No carting heavy diesel motors around. It isn't as though it's never been tried. HS1 (Eurostar) operated that way for many years until they built the final section into St Pancras. Changeover was imperceptible to passengers who might only note the train slowing from 160 to 60 mph ahead of when the catenery ran out and they switched to Southern's old tracks into Waterloo.

      Safety has been raised before but it's less of a hazard than level crossings as most humans have worked out they are best not stepped on - though we do have three legged foxes around here. Trains can easily coast through the unelectrified 100 yard or so sections for crossings and other hazards.

      1. NoOnions

        Thameslink still use the dual electric system. Third rail in from my station in Kent and then it switches over to overhead when it gets into City Thameslink.

        1. Lon24

          The Southern East Croydon to Milton Keynes service uses both too I think. And London Overground has a mixed three rail/catenery network with trains that can use both (though none do a rolling switchover to my knowledge).

          1. katrinab Silver badge

            Overground trains do a rolling switchover between Shepherd's Bush and Willesden Junction, though not in the opposite direction. Southern trains don't do a rolling switchover in either direction at that point.

      2. SpamuelBeckett

        Meseryrail's new trains will be able to switch from third rail (as one of the only networks to still use one), battery (about 20 mile range) and a pantograph.

        Network Rail will not allow any new third rail lines so this is why they've done this.

        They will be making the switch while on the line. For example a potential Liverpool to Preston line. They'll run on the third rail all the way to Ormskirk, before switching to battery to get to the Penwortham triangle where they can extend the pantograph, using them to power all the way into Preston while also charging the battery. Before doing the opposite on the way back out.

        Northern Rail should be running to the bank to buy these hybrid trains.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Dave559 Silver badge

        Overhead line electrification

        With all of the recent(ish) electrification projects in Scotland, England, and even finally venturing into Wales, Network Rail has learned quite a lot about how to put in place elegant engineering bodges to work around the issues of bridges and tunnels: short neutral sections under some bridges, reduced clearances around the wires to what was previously thought necessary, track lowering, fixed-position overhead rail (instead of wire) in more confined tunnel roof spaces, etc. This all comes in useful in helping to make future electrification schemes easier to implement, with less reconstruction necessary.

        Third rail is only suitable for medium speed operations: it's DC passing through a big chunk of metal, and my understanding is that it basically isn't really viable for use above 160 km/h (100 mi/h). The potential risks to trackside staff and passengers (in case of having to disembark in an emergency) mean that, in the UK, it's not permitted any more, except as extensions to existing schemes.

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: Overhead line electrification

          The southern region took a 3rd rail EMU up to around 120mph in tests.

          A 4 car set out from refurb AFAIR.

          Doable but heavy on the shoe gear.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Can be done, although it's easier for trams which are slower. The trams in Bordeaux use overhead catenaries outside the historic centre, but switch to a semi-buried third-rail through the pedestrian centre. The rail is segmented so that the front of the train passing over activates that segment which is completely covered by the tram, power is picked up from the live segment under the middle of the tram. A trailing shoe at the rear end of the tram shorts the 3rd rail to earth, so that if some fault means it is still live as the tram leaves it there will be some spectaular, but failsafe, tripping of breakers to make the rail 'dead'.

        The main problem they have is snow/ice, which is rare but not unknown, and prevents decent contact.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      They'll charge between stations, and by using regen braking to slow into the station.

    3. MJI Silver badge

      I hope I am not alone in liking the sound of a 12CSVT late at night.

      I used to hear the freights and found it a comforting noise.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        British diesel locos all had their unique sounds. The regular beat of the 12CSVT could be heard for miles. The type 2 and 3 sulzers sounded good under load.

        The US locos all sound very similar as they are pretty much all 2 stroke and just buzz. Years ago when travelling in the southwest USA we stopped by a switching yard and the engineer invited me and my dad into the cab while he did some shunting. Absolutely epic thing when you are a little kid!

        1. Someone Else Silver badge

          US locos are not all 2 stroke. The ones from GE (now Wabtec) are 4-stroke, while the ones from EMD (now ProgressRail) are primarily 2-stroke (except for the F125, which uses a 4-stroke small(er)-bore, higher RPM engine from Caterpillar).

          The "buzz" you are referring to is probably turbo whine...I'm not sure what other kind of "buzz" can be derived from an engine turning at somewhere around 900 RPM.

          And a cab ride? Yes...epic!

  3. devin3782

    I'd say not leaving the trains parked with their engines idling in stations would go some way to helping emissions and they health of all that use them, the number of times I've been to British train stations and seen this it's unnecessary

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It is partly to reduce the number of heat/cool cycles on the engine.

      Ah the memories of childhood watching the class 47s, 33s, 37s, HSTs and thumpers clagging their way out of the local station. I think the brits perfected the art of turning large quantities of fuel into noise and amorphous elemental carbon whilst turning as little as possible into tractive effort.

      The yanks needed tunnels to do the same:

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Well on the subject of engines turning fuel into pointless heat and noise, then the yanks are peerless, their cars do a fantastic job of getting as little power out of a massive engine as possible.

    2. thondwe

      Think you'll find the engines run when stationary to provide power to lights, heating, cooking, doors etc.

      Hybrid works - e.g. GWR from London to Cardiff is overhead and Cardiff to Swansea is Diesel, but mostly to save a bit of cash (or ignoring the Welsh again) on not doing a proper job and electrifying it all.

      Mixed 3rd and Overhead also happens in London - Class 710 - don't think switch over happens while moving though.

      Long term electric makes more sense - Hydrogen I think is a currently non CO2 friendly fudge to save wiring everything up...

  4. Aleph0

    Blues train

    > "Neither Hitachi nor Trenitalia has offered an explanation as to why they decided to call it the Blues train"

    Trenitalia uses to name its regional train models after musical genres: in my corner of the woods I've spotted the Rock, Pop, Jazz and Minuetto ones.

    As for why they've chosen "Blues" for this particular one your guess is as good as mine, although I suspect that it may reflect the feelings of the usual suppliers about losing an order of this size...

    1. TimMaher Silver badge

      Re: Blues train

      Also a reference to one of the most luxurious trains in the world. “The Blue Train”.

      I’m guessing.

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Blues train

      They have Frecciarossa (red arrow) and Frecciablanca (white arrow) trains.

      If they wanted to complete the colours of the Italian flag, then surely they would have gone for Frecciaverde?

  5. tip pc Silver badge

    Where will they get all that green H?

    Quite where all the hydrogen is going to come from is another question. In principle, the universe's most abundant element can be electrolyzed from water using renewable energy. In practice, the vast majority of industrial hydrogen comes from natural gas [PDF] through a process which can be doubly polluting with greenhouse gasses.

    This needs to be made more well known.

    Hydrocarbons are a great store of H making it safe and easy to transport and use.

    H on its own is difficult to store, combusts readily and needs special precautions to use it safely.

    1 major accident and it will set the H sector back.

    There is a reason H isn’t used more widely.

    Also energy density of H is terrible compared to when it’s compounded with C.

    Liberating H from CH4 is done industrially but is not green. It can be done by Methane pyrolysis which is touted as green but still requires energy and CH4 from somewhere -neither likely green, also in an energy cycle you’d be more energy efficient to just use the CH4 to generate electricity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where will they get all that green H?

      Compounding hydrogen with nitrogen makes for a pretty good fuel. Its just hard to handle :)

      1. NeilPost Silver badge

        Re: Where will they get all that green H?

        Ammonia is far-far easier than H2.

    2. Inspector71

      Re: Where will they get all that green H?

      Yep, Hydrogen is really tricky stuff to handle even for the "experts". Just ask NASA....cough....SLS....

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Where will they get all that green H?

        If you want serious, long-term expertise in handling enormous quantities of Hydrogen, look no further than Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH.

        It didn't end well for them either...

    3. Red Ted

      Re: Where will they get all that green H?

      Aside from the handling and storage problems associated with Hydrogen there is this the issue that you are still hauling around a power plant with each train.

      Almost all modern trains have electric motors driving the wheels, it's just a matter of where that electricity comes from.

      In a diesel or hydrogen train you have to carry around the generator and the fuel which increases the weight and so reduces efficiency.

      If you have an electrified railway then you don't need this extra weight, so your trains are lighter and more efficient.

      With the added bonus that as you de-carbonise you electricity generation system, you decarbonise your trains without having to change them.

  6. drand

    Japanese manufacturer Hitachi Rail and Italy's Trenitalia have unveiled a triple hybrid locomotive that they claim halves carbon emission compared with the trains they replace.

    The "Blues train" is suitable to carry passengers throughout the European network and is powered by a combination of batteries, electric cable, and diesel engines.

    OK, snarky comments...

    Hybrid trains have been around for ages, diesel/electric and electric/electric. If it uses three sources of power, then it's a double hybrid, not a triple. Also, if one of those is electric cable, they're going to need a lot of extension reels.

    Though seriously this (switching to battery within locality of stations and urban areas) is long overdue, and I've often wondered why it isn't already happening. Though it's not a surprise given the quality of the UK's rolling stock and infrastructure compared with elsewhere in western Europe I've experienced.

    p.s. I miss the sound of the Paxman Valentas spooling up from cold and whistling by, when I were a lad.

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      They usually hang the reel of cable from poles above the track. This is nothing new.

    2. Peter D

      State of rolling stock

      UK rolling stock is of a high quality and younger than the average of most European countries.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: State of rolling stock

        High Quality and younger.

        So most Europeans must be using pre 1970s stuff then as our best rollign stock is 40 years old (Mark 3)

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: State of rolling stock

          So those new trains on the East Coast line were bought in 2nd hand then? They told us they were new!

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: State of rolling stock

            But they are not that great.

            Best carriage for passenger comfort and ride quality is still the Mark 3, most well known as the trailer cars in an HST.

            The ECML Mark 4s are rough riding as it was supposed to be 140mph compliant so uses SIG bogies, and BT10s were only cleared for 125mph.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If only battery production was green...

    But it's not.

    I'm still unconvinced that CO2 pollution is worse than the poisoned landscapes resulting from mining all the minerals necessary to produce the vast quantity of batteries that our "green" economy now demands. And don't even bother mentioning recycling. It's a non-starter.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If only battery production was green...

      Agreed. Lithium ion batteries are nice in small scale (phones, laptops etc) but the qty of material needed to cover all the proposed EVs and grid storage required to 'green the grid' is horrific. No doubt mostly sourced from China and other countries with lax or zero environmental and worker protection.

      Trains could work with alternative technologies such as redux flow or sodium ion as the energy density issue is less of a problem.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: If only battery production was green...

        "Trains could work with alternative technologies such as redux flow or sodium ion as the energy density issue is less of a problem."

        Yes, just make the seats a bit narrower and reduce the leg room a bit to make space for the batteries :-)

  8. MJI Silver badge

    Missed opportunities

    A few

    Very efficient Diesels, 100 built last BR Diesel locos, then all the US built inefficient but cheap stuff.

    The Hayabusa project.

    The constant giving up on electrification.

    I bet there will still be 1950s locos running in 2030. Most likely a large V12.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've always thought we missed the emissions train (ahem) by not doing the diesel electric hybrid in automobiles. A tiny turbodiesel optimized to drive a generator, with a small battery as a load bank, would likely get somewhere in the 100MPG range even in a larger vehicle.

    So far as trains go, rather than a third rail it seems to me that an induction rail would work better. Walk on it and no zap, drive a train over it and it completes the circuit and passes current. And, people could charge their EVs by parking on the track, ay least until the train companies work out that it's happening and shut down the rails in the streets.

    Induction is already being used to charge cell phones, and I've heard of it being looked at to charge cars.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      Traction motors in cars, FTW!

    2. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      I've always thought we missed the emissions train (ahem) by not doing the diesel electric hybrid in automobiles. A tiny turbodiesel optimized to drive a generator, with a small battery as a load bank, would likely get somewhere in the 100MPG range even in a larger vehicle.

      That's basically what a BMW i3 Rex is all be in petrol rather than diesel and a useful sized battery not a small one. I'm unconvinced a small desiesal is good idea, aren't the emissions even worse?

      <fx>tappity tappity duck</fx>

      yep, Euro 6 is basically killing off small diesels. (IMHO - yay!)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "all be in"

        They say every day is a school day. Today's lesson is that "all be in" is actually not three words, but only on. Albeit. :-)

        But I do agree with you on the "gen set" idea for cars. As you say, it's been done. And not just be BMW. But there seems to be none currently in production. There must be a reason for that because it does seem like an obvious solution for long range driving minimising if not zeroing pollution at the point of use.

  10. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Wow thats new


    BR(remember them?) had a hybrid locomotive that could run on third rail power and had a diesel motor in it too for the bits that didnt have third rail power

    Shame it was only 600HP but it worked.

    Anyway, Great western train run hybrids out of paddington upto Oxford and beyond... runs on the 25Kv overhead, then switches to diesel when the wires run out south of Oxford (think the power gets diverted into the JET project at Harwell)

    1. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: Wow thats new

      Oooo, can't wait for the first report of a fusion-powered loco. Maybe 30 years away?

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Wow thats new

      “ runs on the 25Kv overhead, then switches to diesel when the wires run out south of Oxford (think the power gets diverted into the JET”

      That must be one fast train…

    3. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Wow thats new

      No they don't.

      GWR does not run electrics up to Oxford. They run hybrids. The trains between Didcot and the north (i.e. Bicester, Worcester, Cheltenham) are all diesel-powered. The trains from Paddington heading to Oxford switch to diesel as they approach the Didcot junction where they turn north. The line north of Didcot was *meant* to be electrified, but it is *not*. That was part of something called the Electric Spine, which was canned when the costs overran on the Great Western Line electrification.

      That's also why Cardiff to Swansea is diesel-powered. They decided that to stop Wales complaining about how they were always ignored (see above comment somewhere where a Welsh person's just done that about Cardiff-Swansea), they'd run the electrics to Cardiff at least. The line from Chippenham approaching Bath is also diesel (and when they leave Bath, they switch back to electric), because Network Rail was unable to agree a catenary design to fit into Bath's (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) Regency feel. Slapping up massive steel cross beams would've cost Bath its status, and the city is very much protective of it. So, diesel it is. The line from Swindon to Bristol Parkway is fully electric, as is the Severn Tunnel (with the aforementioned fixed-rail electrics in the roof space).

      At least the good news of that fiasco of an electrification has taught Network Rail to do a lot more groundwork ahead of time to plan things out properly. A lot of the overruns were due to the fact that the overhead wire carriers were heavier than was originally planned (because someone did planning with older specs, and the newer spec required stronger material) and many of the piles that those carriers were meant to be mounted on had to either be abandoned (after being hammered into the ground) or had to be hammered even deeper to provide ground support.

      And JET has its own power supply. It wouldn't be on the same line as rail would be.

    4. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Wow thats new

      The 73s are not hybrids but Electro Diesels, primary 3rd rail electric but with an auxiliary engine for away from 3rd rail.

      Hybrid would be the Haybusa project where an HST power car was used with rechargeable batteries, very little on internet about that project. Was 43089

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