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Hitachi unveils plans for battery-powered Intercity Express

THE first intercity train in Britain to use batteries is to be developed by Hitachi and Eversholt Rail, for trial service on the Great Western Main Line.

The train will be a conversion of an existing bi-mode GWR Intercity Express, and the result will be a five-car unit which will be able to use electricity from overhead lines, diesel fuel or battery power. 

Hitachi says adding batteries will offer fuel savings and carbon emission reductions of more than 20 per cent, and will also be a first step towards a completely battery-powered intercity version by the late 2040s.

The first experimental unit is intended for service on the route between London and Penzance, most of which is not electrified.

It is expected that the batteries will be used when the train is calling at stations and travelling on non-electrified lines in urban areas, reducing noise and improving air quality.

The battery pack will be developed by Hitachi, drawing on knowledge from Japan and created at the Hyperdrive Innovation base in Sunderland, which is a partner with Hitachi.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris described the trial as ‘an exciting partnership to develop technology that can make rail travel more sustainable,’ while Hitachi Rail’s UK & Ireland country lead Jim Brewin said: ‘This partnership is an exciting opportunity to unlock new greener trains for passengers, reduce running costs for operators and cut carbon. At Hitachi Rail we share the UK’s ambition for a net zero emission future. Britain is in a unique position to become a global leader in battery trains.’

GWR interim managing director Matthew Golton added that the operator was looking forward ‘to working closely with both Hitachi Rail and Eversholt Rail on this trial’.

A different type of tri-mode unit has already been unveiled for service on local routes, again on GWR, which received the first example of a Class 769 unit for tests during the summer. This is a conversion of a former Thameslink dual-voltage Class 319 unit which has gained diesel engines, and so in this case the three modes are 25kV AC, 750V DC and diesel. This project has been sponsored by Porterbrook Leasing, which will eventually provide 19 Class 769 ‘Flex’ units for service between Reading, Redhill and Gatwick Airport, and also on the Henley and Marlow branches.

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