Sustainable Traction Systems

We are delving deeper to understand the factors which affect exactly how much energy trains use and need.

Our group of researchers are experts in all aspects of railway traction and propulsion systems, and we do this through our research and application focussed projects. Our most notable recent success is the partnership with Porterbrook, together with other specialist companies, to develop and deliver the HydroFLEX train. This is the UK’s first Hydrogen-powered train, where we use electricity produced by a Hydrogen fuel cells instead of overhead wires or a diesel engine.

Much of the focus of this theme uses basic physics and the principles behind low-cost energy. We make use of the fact that energy is only ever transferred, not created, to see how we exploit this for the benefit of moving trains. It is easy to get a train moving due to its low rolling resistance, meaning energy put into the train by the traction system gets very efficiently transferred into kinetic energy. When the train needs to brake we can collect this using regenerative braking to return it to the electricity supply network or to store it in batteries on the train, to use again when the train needs it to accelerate.

The railway uses both electricity and diesel as sources of energy for traction. In the future, however, diesel will become less and less popular as governments around the world work on meeting their climate change commitments. Sustainable Traction Systems research investigates how we can provide sufficient low-carbon energy to run the world’s railways. Hydrogen is an alternative energy carrier which can be used to provide energy. When produced through electrolysis using renewable electricity, a hydrogen fuel cell can be zero-carbon and thereby contribute to meeting global decarbonisation objectives.

Research areas include:

  • FOAK 3 HydroFLEX Mainline Testing and Approvals
  • FOAK 4 HydroFLEX Development of a raft production design
  • Optimisation of train traction energy reduction (OTTER) in partnership with Ricardo Rail to deliver energy savings in Light Rail applications
  • Network Rail Remote Earth Monitoring for 25 kV and 750 DC systems
  • Network Rail Signalling Power Supply Monitoring – developing techniques for fault identification and location in signalling power supply cables
  • Research and Demonstration on metro energy saving key technology based on multiple objectives in Singapore SMRT
  • Powertrain: Fuel Cell Electric Multiple Unit (FCEMU) concept design work for RSSB
  • Optimisation of energy consumption of train traction for Guangzhou Metro Line 7
  • Partnering with G-Volution on the application of dual fuelling locomotives for carbon and emissions reduction

If you would like to get in touch, please email: railway@contacts.bham.ac.uk.