“As the rail industry explores the use of battery-powered trains, there comes a need to consider how traction batteries are recharged and generally managed. Battery-powered trains are not new, there were various early examples. Experiments with accumulator railcars, as they were initially called, were conducted from around 1890 in Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. Between 1955 and 1995, Deutsche Bahn in Germany successfully operated a fleet of 230 Class ETA 150 railcars utilising lead acid batteries.
“Japan has taken to battery rail vehicle development and has combined this with contact system electrification, charging taking place from the fixed system.
“British Railways, in the late 1950s, produced a battery version of its Derby Lightweight first- generation diesel multiple units. The unit went into service on the Aberdeen-Ballater branch line in 1958 and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board provided recharging facilities at Aberdeen Platform 1 and at Ballater. The batteries were large lead-acid units weighing about eight tonnes. Development of the traction battery continued but special strengthening of the BEMU (Battery Electric Multiple Unit) underframe was required. Charging was by shore supply cables at each end of the line, which had to be connected manually. The train either ran in to a special charging siding or careful cable management was required at the terminal.
“In the South, the Class 419 battery motor luggage vans were capable of running on batteries or a third rail, useful for short non-electrified sections on quayside lines at Folkestone and Dover.
“Lead-acid batteries, as used on these first-generation rail vehicles, are not the most efficient or effective form of stored energy electrical power. However, battery development has proceeded apace, as it has on road vehicles. Weight penalties are now therefore much reduced, increasing the attractiveness of battery-powered vehicles.
“While super-capacitors have been used on some light rail schemes, these are not really suited to heavier applications, being more useful for short sections of light rail in architecturally sensitive areas. So any use of stored energy on heavy rail will, for the foreseeable future, be a question of battery technology…”