Like every type of industry, the rail network needs to think about being energy efficient and using new, more sustainable types of power.
Dan and Bex are investigating in our latest podcast series, all about Britain’s railways!
Even though trains that use fossil fuels might be phased out over the coming decades, the electricity that new trains run on has to come from somewhere!
Like most types of transport we use every day – the railways are certainly energy-intensive.
As well as powering trains, a large amount of energy is also required around stations and depots, control centres and signalling, communications and other rail systems.
With the railways needing to run more trains to meet growing passengers demands, Bex and Dan are right that it makes sense to make trains more energy efficient, and to also move away from using energy sourced from fossil fuels where we can.
The great news is that there are lots of cool ideas about how to do this!
As well as making old engines more efficient and greener, engineers are also experimenting with new forms of power, like biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells which create electricity by combining hydrogen stored in tanks on-board with oxygen to produce an electrical energy.
You might have heard of hybrid cars – they use a mix of fossil fuel and electricity, which they generate themselves to move. Well, did you know there are hybrid trains too?
They’re called BI-MODES – trains that run on electricity where that’s available and then diesel engines where it’s not. The handy thing about hybrid trains is that you can travel on one train to your destination, even if not all of the line has been electrified.
If an electric train has to only run a small distance without electricity, like a freight train within a depot or a local passenger train on a branch line, rather than diesel engines it could store energy in batteries as its moving under the wires, releasing that energy when it needs to.
An easy way to use less energy is to make sure trains, stations and control centres are only using the electricity they need.
Passenger carriages need to be heated and well-lit if people are in them – but if they are empty then it makes sense to turn off the lights, and if there’s only a few people in a carriage, perhaps the heating or air conditioning doesn’t need to be so high!
We can save energy by changing the materials we use to build and maintain the rolling stock and infrastructure – making sure everything we use is lighter and smarter and from renewable low carbon sources.
Here’s another exiting project in the pipeline…
The Very Light Rail Vehicle project is designing, building and testing a low-carbon lightweight railcar. It packs more of the train’s braking parts into the bogie of the train – the bogie is the wheels of the carriage.
Pairing this bogie with a lightweight body results in a carriage which doesn’t need as much fuel to get around.
Find out more about Britain’s railways!
Kids Guide to Trains: Britain's Digital Railways
Bex and Dan learn all about the future of Britain's railways, from signals to trains and tracks!
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