BCRRE Rock Rail and TU Dresden Logo
BCRRE, Rock Rail and TU Dresden Logo

A research collaboration between the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden), the University of Birmingham and Rock Rail is underway looking at innovative battery technology as a green alternative in traction technology for the railway sector.

The Technische Universität Dresden and the University of Birmingham have come together and started a research project focused on battery-powered traction technology for railways. Rail developer, investor and asset management company, Rock Rail, is a key player in rolling stock leasing and initiated the project to support its activities in Germany to provide innovative rail funding solutions that deliver sustainable traction technology including electrical and battery-driven propulsion. Currently, this research project is one of four international projects that are being consolidated in the Saxony railway innovation cluster SET4FUTURE of BTS Rail Saxony.

Rail is already one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable transport modes in the world. However, there is always room for improvement to its carbon footprint and traction represents a significant portion of the energy needed to run a railway. Electrification using overhead wires is already an efficient and potentially emission-free way to propel trains: currently 60% of Germany’s federal rail networks are electrified (source: Allianz pro Schiene) adducing 90 percent of the total transport performance. But full electrification of all German rail networks is not economically viable due to the high cost of electrification infrastructure. However, a solution can be found by replacing diesel technology with low-carbon alternatives for propulsion. The collaborative research project between the Technische Universität Dresden and the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education at the University of Birmingham looks to explore these.   

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Arnd Stephan, Chair for Eletric railways at TU Dresden said, "for more than 10 years we have been conducting research on alternative electric propulsion for modern rail vehicles. Now this topic has reached the public market and requires a swift assessment of the various operating options. We can achieve this with the conjoint support of our colleagues in Birmingham in the best manner. Railways are an European transport vehicle and therefore require solutions on a European level."

The 3-month project will look at the extent to which battery technologies are able to substitute for traditional diesel traction on the German network.

Alex Burrows, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education and the Rail-Alliance said, "we are really pleased to be working with our industry partner Rock Rail and our friends at the Technische Universität Dresden on this relevant research assessing battery technology for trains. Rail decarbonisation is the big challenge facing the global rail industry and our two universities are at the forefront of research and development work in this field.  As leaders in the field of railway traction power and energy systems, our research is hugely important in developing the future solutions that will deliver a decarbonised railway."

Rock Rail is keen to support the German railway market in the introduction of vehicles powered by eco-friendly battery technology. For Rock Rail the university-based cooperation means the combined support of two of the leading research facilities in energy systems and propulsion technology.

Nick Watson, Commercial Director of Rock Rail said, “supporting the development of greener, more sustainable rail travel is a key focus for Rock Rail and we are committed to helping achieve this in Germany. This collaboration is supporting the work we are doing in developing funding solutions to bring cleaner, state-of-the-art trains to the German market, helping encourage a shift towards rail travel and supporting decarbonisation of the rail network.”

Demonstrating the value of multinational cooperation, the project partners met at a technology workshop in March 2020. The Saxon-British technology workshop was funded by the Free State of Saxony and organised by STE4FUTURE in partnership with the UK’s Rail Alliance and Saxony’s BTS Rail Saxony. Both organisations are local clusters supporting their communities of rail supply companies and have been working closely together for 10 years as part of the wider European Railway Clusters Initiative (ERCI).

Dirk-Ulrich Krüger, BTS-Cluster manager and ERCI-spokesperson said, "I am very happy about the dynamic development of the European Railway Clusters Initiative, ERCI. Such research projects result from a regular and intensive international exchange and the mutual trust that has been growing over many years. Not least they are an important driver to fulfil our mission and strengthen the railway industry in Europe."

About Birmingham Centre of Railway Research and Education
Birmingham, is Europe’s largest academic-based group delivering railway science and education. With over 145 academics, researchers and professional support staff, BCRRE provides world class research and thought leadership within railways, and offers an expanding portfolio of high-quality education programmes, including Rail and Rail Systems Level 6 and 7 degree apprenticeships. In 2018 BCRRE became lead partner in the £92m UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and in 2019 it absorbed the activities of the Rail Alliance into its offering, increasing its breadth of support for innovation and growth in the rail industry. Contact: BCRRE, railway@contacts.bham.ac.uk  (0)121 414 2995.

About Technische Universität Dresden
Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) is one of the top universities in Germany and Europe. Strong in research and considered excellent with respect to the range and the quality of degree programmes it offers, it is also closely interconnected with culture, business and society. As a modern university with a broad array of disciplines and with its five Schools it has a diverse scientific spectrum that only few other German universities are able to match. TU Dresden is Saxony’s largest university with approximately 32,000 students and 8,300 employees – among them 600 professors. Since 2012, TU Dresden has been one of eleven Universities of Excellence in Germany. It was able to successfully defend this title on 19th July 2019.

About Rock Rail
Rock Rail was established in 2014 to focus on the development of large scale, strategically important rail infrastructure in partnership with public sector bodies and private sector investors. Rock Rail is a developer, owner and asset manager of rolling stock and other rail infrastructure, leading the development of innovative financing solutions for core rail infrastructure as well as providing asset management services for the same.

Rock Rail invests directly and on behalf of institutional investors. As an asset manager it provides a complete range of specialist rail services, managing residual value and protecting the long-term interests of its institutional investors.

Since 2016 Rock Rail has secured £3 billion of new passenger fleets for operation on 5 UK rail franchises, (Great Northern routes, East Anglia, South Western, East Midlands and West Coast Partnership). Rock Rail was also part of a consortium of equity investors to take a 45% stake in the Intercity Express Programme West, one of the UK’s most significant rail programmes of recent years. As well as continuing to work on other core fleet opportunities in the UK, Rock Rail has extended its focus to other UK rail infrastructure sectors including digital signalling, depots and electrification and other rolling stock geographies including Australia, France, Germany and other mainland European markets.

For more information, please visit: www.rockinfrastructure.com

About BTS Rail Saxony
BTS Rail Saxony is the largest railway cluster in Central Germany represented by industrial association BTS Bahntechnik Sachsen e.V. with around 70 members in industry and research. Both associations focus on strengthening the railway industry in Saxony and Central Germany as well as supplier and service provision in the regional railway industry. As a broad contact and cooperation network BTS connects its members in cooperation projects, conjoint sales promotion and a coordinated access to international markets. BTS is relying on an international network of around 1.000 contacts in industry, research and science as well as in the political landscape.

SET4FUTURE is one of four selected clusters, that have been funded by the Free State of Saxony since July 2018 and will continue to be funded for another 10 years after the successful interim assessment. SET4FUTURE is aimed at improving the efficiency, profitability and attractiveness of the rail transport through technological innovations, especially in the regional and local public transport sector. The Technische Universität Dresden and A.S.T. - Angewandte System Technik GmbH, a company of the A.S.T. Group located in Dresden, are key cluster partners of the innovation cluster. SET4FUTURE is being co-financed up to 50 percent by tax revenues und the public budget introduced by the Parliament of the Free State of Saxony.