­Battery-powered Train Sets UK Distance Record

Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD


Great Western Railway has run a train, on battery power alone, over a distance of 86 miles in its latest trials of the technology.


Great Western Railway's ;atest trial has seen a battery-powered train travel 86 miles without recharging.


There are a great many advantages in the electrification of railways, such as higher efficiency and less pollution, but there are also a good many disadvantages. For example, electrification is a huge cost in the terms of infrastructure, and the rail tracks usually have to be closed while the lines and pylons are installed. Even then, the overhead lines can be easily damaged by natural events and vandalism also occurs, leading to more delays and closures for repairs. Electric trains that run on batteries would keep the advantages of electrification, while getting rid of the drawbacks. However, as with their EV counterparts, range can be a major disadvantage. It would take a while for this problem to be solved for major long distance trains, but decent range and fast charging should be sufficient for some shorter ‘branch’ lines.


UK railway operator, Great Western Railway (GWR) has been trialling such a battery electric train for some time, and the latest trial has just broken the UK distance record. The train travelled a UK record of 86 miles (138km) on battery power, without recharging. The Class 230 battery train arrived at Reading train depot with 55 percent of its battery capacity remaining. GWR’s specialist engineers claim it had the capability to have reached more than 120 miles on a single charge. The 86 miles was 2 miles more than the previous record holder, a Stadler Class 777, which travelled 84 miles under test conditions in 2022.


GWR uses fast-charge technology to help deliver reliable, battery-only trains capable of fulfilling timetable services on branch lines. To develop the fast-charging technology, GWR initially worked with Vivarail. After Vivarail entered administration at the end of 2022, GWR agreed bought the intellectual property, rolling stock and equipment relating to the fast-charge technology.


GWR Engineering Director Dr Simon Green said, “We were delighted by how the battery train performed today and during its series of test runs. In fact, it’s fair to say it has surpassed the expectations of our team of engineers. Achieving these distances gives us great confidence as we press forward with this industry-leading fast-charge technology. It’s also worth noting that in reaching the 86 miles on Wednesday, the train was operating in a real-world environment, at speeds of up to 60mph, stopping and starting over a hilly route, with elevation changes of up to 200m.”


Now, the train will undergo further trials at West Ealing, where its technology will be tested in a real-world environment. Charging rails and lineside battery banks have been installed at West Ealing in preparation for the trial on the Greenford branch line. The trial will see the battery-powered train run in non-passenger service alongside scheduled passenger services. The train will be allowed to charge for 3 ½ minutes before restarting its journey on the line. GWR has also simulated how the train will perform on other Thames Valley branch lines, with a view to expanding the service further in the future. Battery trains operating on branch lines could reduce GWR emissions by over 1,700 tons of CO2e per year. It is hoped the technology could one day see battery-powered trains in operation across the UK’s approximately 2,000 miles of 80-plus branch lines.