UK rolling stock strategy: diesel, bi-mode and fuel cell-powered trains

Alstom’s Coradia iLint, a hydrogen-powered train. Credit: Alstom.
Alstom’s Coradia iLint, a hydrogen-powered train. Credit: Alstom.

The UK’s Department for Transport has released its third ‘Rolling Stock Perception’ strategy which details the challenges of the market and what the government is doing to tackle them.

The country’s ongoing reliance on diesel power is one of the bigger issues addressed in the report.

Plans to phase out diesel power earlier this year took a serious hit when electrification proposals in Wales, the Midlands and the North were scrapped.

In the report the minister for rail, accessibility and HS2, Paul Maynard, says: “We have a responsibility to our passengers, neighbours and ourselves to protect the environment in which we live.

“Our dependency on diesel as a fuel, and the pollution associated with it, challenges us to work towards a cleaner and more sustainable future.”

While some of the network’s oldest trains – such as the Pacers – are being replaced, Paul called on those concerned with the building, ownership and operation of rolling stock to put forward ideas on alternative energy sources – including hydrogen and battery technologies – to help meet environmental targets. The department is also looking at proposals to replace or upgrade existing engines to reduce energy consumption and the production of NOx and CO2.

The report said there will be an increase in the number of bi-mode trains on the network over the coming years.

Eventually, it expects to see the diesel engines powering these replaced with electrical energy storage systems to provide power on non-electrified sections.

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To further reduce carbon emissions, the department wants train owners, operators and Network Rail to exploit green initiatives to reduce the industry carbon footprint. In the document it gives the following as examples:

  • Transport Design International, University of Warwick and Unipart Rail’s Very Light Rail vehicle, which is half the weight of a comparable heavy-rail vehicle
  • Bombardier’s TRAXX Last Mile Electric Locomotive that can transport goods directly into ports, freight terminals or loading warehouses without the additional use of diesel trucks and shunting locomotives or expensive catenary
  • Transport Scotland looking at the use of “independently-powered electric multiple units”, which also reduces or removes the need for expensive electrification
  • Alstom’s development of hydrogen-powered fuel cell trains which are a possible alternative to diesel trains.

The department added that it will continue to support green initiatives through franchises, stating that it will consider whole-industry, whole-life benefits of these investments for franchise bids and rolling stock procurement.

Click here to view the Department for Transport’s Rolling Stock Perspective


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Electrification, traction power supplies and distribution networks

Peter Stanton undertook, between 1968 and 1972, a ‘thin sandwich’ degree course at City University, London, sponsored by British Railways Midlands Region and with practical training at Crewe and Willesden.

In 1980, following a spell as Area Maintenance Engineer at King’s Cross, Peter took on the interesting and challenging role of being the Personal Assistant to the British Railways Board Member for Engineering. As such, he was project manager for several major inter-regional inter-functional schemes.

Under Railtrack, Peter became Engineering Manager for Infrastructure Contracts, based in Birmingham, and then Electrification and Plant specialist for the West Coast Route Modernisation under Network Rail.

Since 2007, as an independent consultant, he has worked on the national electrification programme, Dubai Metro Red Line, Network Rail Crossrail, and Great Western Electrification. He sits on the Railway Technical Advisory panel of the IET and the Conference and Seminars Committee of the Railway Division of the IMechE.


  1. Following the cancellation a swathe of electrification, the ordering so many trains that there will be a glut of passenger rolling stock and probably the scrapping of much modern and serviceable stock and the fitting of diesel engines to electric trains so that they can travel the 5.7 miles or 9.2 km between Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway on their way to Paddington. It is hard not to be cynical about this.

  2. I am staggered with the comments from Mr. Maynard the rail minister, about the need to replace the diesel engines on the brand new Class 800 IEP trains with alternative electrical supply/storage systems at a time when Mr. Grayling the Transport Minister has suggested the bi mode is best for the cancelled Cardiff to Swansea electrification. Why not progress to immediately electrify the line. Are the two minister in the same government?

    The people of Swansea and the East Midlands need both ministers to explain why one minister has changed his mind about bi-mode diesel electric engines.

  3. I rode the 379 IPEMU demonstrator in Essex nearly three years ago.
    It was almost magical and I didn’t believe we were running on batteries. Bombardier’s onboasrd engineer showed me we were

    I have yet to meet anybody except for a few serious commuters who rode that train. They were impressed too!

    How many reading this story, rode that train?

      • It opened my eyes to the possibility of battery trains. it’s just that all the physics of steel-wheel-on-steel-rail helps a train powered by a heavy battery. Especially, if you capture the regenerative braking energy on the train in the battery. I think Aventras could have a battery in every powered car to handle the braking and drive. That would surely reduce the electrical looses. It looks like the Class 345 have only one or two trailer cars and seven or eight powered ones. This gives good acceleration and smooth braking.

  4. I’ve also seen a Class 379013 IPEMU Electrostar at Liverpool Street before it was used on the Mayflower line doing test runs for couple of months. Which was amazing to see it operated on battery power with the pantograph down as it was working between Manningtree and Harwich Town and back to Manningtree. But the battery component on the 379013 Electrostar has been removed and the train is now operated on usual AC 25kv overhead after the battery test trial which obviously did work but it was just used on trail. And that’s how EMU trains can operate on battery mode and to be used on non-electrified lines once the batteries are fully charged in which it can operate for about 15-20 miles for short periods of time before the battery loses power and the train does eventually switches back to AC electric mode via using the pantograph up onto the live 25kv overhead which then powers the rechargeable batteries. If that’s what Electric multiple units might be operated on battery aswell usual 25kv overhead.

    • Vivarail’s Class 230’s could also operate on battery power via using its wheels and regenerative braking to generate electricity to power the rechargeable batteries in which would help the environment and to reduce pollution on the railways. Plus solar panels fitted on top of the train is also a stepping forward to power the batteries to power the train on non-electrified lines including Coventry-Leamington Spa, Coventry-Nuneaton and Bletchley-Bedford routes that London Midland would soon get the Class 230’s that are currently being converted from D78 stocks used on the District Line. With most of the Class 230’s that will be DEMU (Diesel-Electric multiple unit) D-Trains to replace the Class 142’s and Class 143’s Pacers.


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