Associate feature: Scotland can be home to the world’s most advanced battery trains
Last month, Scotland took an important next step towards its net zero emission future.
Transport Scotland published its roadmap to decarbonise Scotland’s rail passenger services by 2035. The Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan is ambitious but also provides real clarity for the rail supply chain. Transport Scotland has painted a compelling picture of what a truly decarbonised rail network will look like by the late 2030s. This includes electrification, battery and hydrogen technology being used in different areas to reduce emissions, ease overcrowding, and improve reliability.
I am excited by Transport Scotland’s plans, and even more excited that Hitachi Rail have the battery train solution that can assist in achieving the 2035 target, give Scottish passengers the trains they deserve, and reduce the total cost of infrastructure upgrades and operations.
Four days prior to Transport Scotland releasing its plan, Hitachi and ScotRail celebrated an important milestone in our partnership, with the two-year anniversary of the Class 385 going into passenger service. Since December 2019, this 100 per cent electric fleet has been the UK’s most reliable new train. The Class 385 travelled the equivalent of three and a half times around the world fault free. We are proud to say it remains at the top of the railway industry’s new fleets reliability table.
The success of the Class 385 is testament to the tireless effort of our Scottish workforce, who work hand-in-hand with ScotRail, Network Rail and Transport Scotland. This successful collaboration has quickly and consistently delivered tangible benefits for passengers.
Only six months after the introduction of Class 385, a Survation poll found that nearly 9 out of 10 passengers preferred the new electric fleet to the previous diesel trains. Meanwhile, the latest Transport Focus survey showed a 9 per cent increase in ScotRail passenger satisfaction, with 89 per cent of passengers happy with overall service. This was the second largest increase for any train company in the UK.
The zero-emission Class 385 is making an important contribution to Scotland’s climate change and air quality targets. In 2019 alone, replacing diesel trains with Class 385 stopped 9,972 tonnes of CO2 being emitted. Across the lifetime of the fleet, these savings will be the equivalent of planting over 5 million trees.
Our ambition at Hitachi Rail is therefore to build on the success of the Class 385 and play a critical role in the delivery of the Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan. We can do this by building a battery train fleet for Scotland, supported by state-of-the-art rail maintenance facilities, and creating new highly skilled job opportunities across the country.
Hitachi Rail is a global leader in battery train technology. We introduced our first battery train on Japan’s railways back in 2016. The DENCHA fleet has proved very successful and we have subsequently introduced a second-generation of this battery train. We know how battery technology works, how it will improve, and the flexibility it provides.
The battery train that we want to develop for Scotland would deliver the same step change in passenger experience as the Class 385 – more seats, modern interior, extra connectivity, shorter journeys and greater reliability – but this time on partly or non-electrified routes.
Hitachi battery trains would extend the range of zero-emission rail travel. When the overhead wires run out, our technology can continue for up to 90km in battery operating mode. This is more than adequate to cover non-electrified sections of Scotland’s network given our battery trains can recharge on the move, either while braking, topping up at stations, or when the train re-connects with overhead wires. We are collaborating with UK’s leading battery manufacturer – Hyperdrive Innovation – to develop a market-leading battery to power trains in Scotland. Therefore, range and recharging will never be a barrier to the roll out of our battery trains.
A very subtle but important distinction in Transport Scotland’s plan was recognising that battery trains and electrification are two sides of the same coin. They are complementary technologies that unlock discontinuous electrification and brand-new trains for passengers on non-electrified routes.
Discontinuous electrification negates the need to install wires in tunnels, under bridges, and in stations which tend to be the trickiest and most expensive part of upgrades.
So by concentrating electrification on short accessible sections, it not only reduces the overall infrastructure upgrade cost, but also the associated maintenance. This makes the railway safer for trackside engineers and reduces whole-life costs.
The business case for discontinuous electrification and battery trains is clear. It is proven technology that can be delivered in the next few years, at staged intervals, enabling clear and longer-term planning. It provides the quickest and the most cost-efficient way to deliver the Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan.
Hitachi Rail have a track record of investing in Scotland. Ahead of the Class 385 being introduced, Hitachi invested over £30 million to upgrade the 106-year-old Edinburgh depot so it could service modern electric trains. Equally important was our investment in the 330 staff we employ at our facilities in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
We completed an extensive upskilling programme to ensure all Edinburgh depot staff can maintain the UK’s most advanced fleets. This investment ensures that Craigentinny depot will continue to be an important rail maintenance hub for many more decades.
If Hitachi achieves its ambition to deliver a new battery fleet, it would demand further investment in railway maintenance facilities and staff. The construction of a brand new depot would benefit the local supply chain and create new jobs.
Being home to the world’s most advanced battery trains could prove advantageous for Scotland’s rail sector. Becoming a centre for battery and discontinuous engineering expertise means, other countries or companies would come to Scotland to learn how to decarbonise effectively and efficiently. Similarly, introducing cutting-edge technology would create new green supply chain opportunities in Scotland.
The Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan recognises that battery trains are a win-win for both passengers and enabling electrification. Passengers get brand new trains, sooner rather than later. Electrification upgrades can be accelerated, at a lower cost. Scotland can become a hub for battery train technology, skills and supply chain. Our continuing success in Scotland means Hitachi is the right partner to help Scotland achieve its ambition of a decarbonised railway by 2035.
Jim Brewin is head of UK & Ireland at Hitachi Rail
This piece was sponsored by Hitachi Rail