Laying the groundwork for rail electrification

Author : Steve Hughes | Managing Director | REO UK

01 May 2021

REO_The journey of railway electrification
REO_The journey of railway electrification

Network Rail recently laid out its preliminary plans to decarbonise the rail network, which involved finding alternatives to diesel trains & electrifying more than 7,000 miles of track by 2050. The addition of more electric trains to tracks, alongside greater electrification, will increase the need for robust electrical infrastructure to support the network in a clean & safe way.

The full version of this article was originally featured in the May 2021 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Here, Steve Hughes, Managing Director of railway power quality specialist, REO explains what electrical components are needed to maximise electrical safety and performance in rail, smoothing the transition to greener rail.

In its Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy report, Network Rail sets out its plans to meet the UK Government’s goal of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. One of the core messages of the report is that Network Rail intends to get most, if not all, diesel trains off tracks in the coming decades.

The report states that “diesel-only trains should only be bought where there are clear strategic and economic reasons for doing so.” Even in these cases, operators should only choose trains where there is potential to replace the diesel engine with a zero-carbon alternative in the future.

The Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce has identified several traction technologies that are in the running to replace diesel trains, most notably, hydrogen, electric and battery. Each technology has its pros and
cons, but the consensus is that hydrogen and battery-powered trains are better suited to quieter routes that span short distances. Although more expensive in terms of infrastructure investment, electric trains are better suited for long-distance journeys and high-traffic routes.

With each technology, significant infrastructure investment is required. Currently, 15,400 single-track kilometres (STKs) of the railway network are unelectrified, and Network Rail has calculated that at least 11,700 STKs of
this will be used for electric trains. In addition, there are a further 2,300 STKs of rail where no clear decision on technology has been made, with Network Rail erring towards electrification for 1,340 STKs of it.

The journey to railway electrification
If you were to step onto the planned HS2 railway in the northern reaches of the UK for a trip to London, you would witness a significant change of landscape in a relatively short amount of time. The same can be said for the journey of railway electrification, which, in 133 years, has gone from a quarter mile of track to the majority of the UK...

Read the full article in EPDT's May 2021 digital issue

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