Great Western Railway (GWR) is set to conduct the UK’s first real-world trial of FastCharge technology, which enables battery-only trains to operate on branch lines without diesel or overhead wires. The trial, which will take place on the West Ealing and Greenford line this spring, will use a Class 230 battery train and a trackside charging system developed by Vivarail. The trial aims to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of FastCharge technology for decarbonising the UK’s railway.
FastCharge technology is a system that allows battery-only trains to charge quickly and efficiently from the track, without the need for diesel engines or overhead electric lines. The system consists of three main components:
- The battery train, which is a modified Class 230 train that runs on batteries and has retractable shoegear to connect to the charging rails.
- The charging rails, which are short sections of electrified rails installed at strategic locations along the track, such as stations or sidings.
- The battery banks, which are large batteries that store energy from the grid and supply it to the charging rails when needed.
The FastCharge technology works as follows:
- The battery train approaches the charging rail and lowers its shoegear to make contact with the rail.
- The charging rail delivers a high-power charge of up to 2,400kW to the train’s batteries, which can fully charge in just three and a half minutes.
- The battery train raises its shoegear and resumes its journey on battery power, until it reaches the next charging rail.
The FastCharge technology enables the battery train to operate on the same timetable and speed as a diesel train, but with zero emissions and lower noise and maintenance costs.
GWR’s Trial: What It Involves and What It Aims For
GWR’s trial is the first real-world test of FastCharge technology in the UK, and it involves the following:
- The trial will take place on the West Ealing and Greenford line, a 4.5-mile branch line in west London that currently uses diesel trains.
- The trial will use a Class 230 battery train, which was originally built by British Rail in the 1980s and refurbished by Vivarail with new batteries and interiors.
- The trial will use a trackside charging system, which was developed by Vivarail and installed at West Ealing station, where the battery train will charge between each trip.
- The trial will run for one year, starting from spring 2024, and will collect and analyse data on the performance and reliability of the FastCharge technology in different conditions and scenarios.
The trial aims to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of FastCharge technology for decarbonising the UK’s railway, and to inform and support the future deployment of the technology on other branch lines across the country. The trial also aims to support GWR’s goal of phasing out diesel-only traction by 2040, and to contribute to the UK’s target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
GWR’s Trial: Who It Is Led and Supported By
GWR’s trial is led and supported by a team of partners and stakeholders, who share the vision and commitment of decarbonising the UK’s railway, and who provide the expertise and resources for the trial. The team includes:
- GWR, which is the main operator of the trial, and which provides the operational and logistical support for the trial, such as the drivers, the timetables, and the safety measures.
- Vivarail, which is the main developer of the trial, and which provides the technical and engineering support for the trial, such as the battery train, the charging system, and the data collection and analysis.
- Network Rail, which is the main regulator of the trial, and which provides the approval and permission for the trial, as well as the infrastructure and maintenance support for the trial, such as the track and the signalling.
- Department for Transport, which is the main funder of the trial, and which provides the financial and policy support for the trial, as well as the oversight and evaluation of the trial.