How Many AA Batteries Does it Take To Run A Train?

The answer is a whopping 80,000!

In a fantastic advancement of technology, Britain has been testing it’s new battery run train prototype with a set of track trials. The train is quieter and more efficient than the regular diesel powered models, which is fantastic news for train users and the environment too! This really could be one of the cleanest and greenest forms of travel available.

The train is propelled by an electric motor powered by rechargeable battery packs. The train would not emit the pollutants common to the diesel models, but it is important to consider that the power plant producing the electricity to power the battery may emit them.

Courtesy Network Rail
Courtesy Network Rail


The quiet, smooth ride is a great benefit, reducing noise pollution while being more comfortable for the passengers. Strong acceleration is often attributed to electric vehicles when compared with diesel, so we would guess that this is also the case with the battery powered train.

Network Rail decided to re-fit one of it’s electric trains with 6 battery rafts, using a mixture of lithium iron magnesium and hot sodium nickel salt in the units. High-speed tests are now being conducted to assess it’s potential. This is just one step in Network Rail’s drive towards the sustainable future of train travel.

“Although we’ve retrofitted the Abellio Greater Anglia Class 379 unit with lithium iron magnesium batteries, we continue to test other possible solutions so we can gather as much information and comparison data as possible for future development”. ~ James Ambrose, senior engineer, Network Rail said.

This is an exciting development for train travel, as battery power can work alongside electrified sections of the network. The vision is that they will initially cover ‘branch lines’ where it is not cost effective to install the full electrification set up. However, it is vital to note that the battery packs are notoriously expensive, and would need to be replaced from time to time. There are many areas of the UK that would benefit from non-electrified branch lines. It can be assumed that the electrification of large areas would be more costly than the battery packs.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Battery packs are large, bulky and take up considerable vehicle space, although this is more of an issue with cars rather than trains, that are large enough to accommodate them. That said, researchers are constantly working on improving battery technologies to increase ‘stamina’ and decrease recharging time, weight, and cost. This will all help with achieving a sustainable battery powered model.

The modified Class 379 Electrostar battery-powered train, or, Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit (IPEMU) is being tested at almost full speed, which is 65 miles per hour. It could provide the basis for future battery powered trains, but there is also an option to develop a hybrid. A model that could switch between both forms of power would be of great use.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

So far the main hitch is the incredibly short life span of the batteries. After a two hour period of charging the train can only run for one hour. As it stands, it is not suitable for long distances we would assume! CityLab released the following statement in defence of this issue.

Even as it stands, however, this battery-powered train could be a useful asset on some existing services. Take the 12-mile stretch on which the train is now being tested as an example. In a service day running from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., a battery-powered train running slightly below the U.K.’s average rail speed of 65 miles per hour could comfortably make 14 round trips and still have time to recharge. So the application here suggests short, shuttle-type services, such as an airport express route.

There is clearly a use for the train even at this stage of it’s development therefore. From this position further advancement in the strength and stamina of the battery pack could really change the face of British public transport. Papers such as this, which is quoted below are already publishing the results of research into more efficient methods of charging.

In this paper 3.3 kW on-board charger is proposed for electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Considering the life time of charger, new topology which is not using the high-voltage electrolytic capacitors is proposed. This charger is comprised of two stages that one is boost converter stage for PFC control and the other is uncontrolled LLC resonant converter for galvanic isolation and step-down of voltage. Proposed charger is implemented and it is 7.1 liters in volume and 6.8kg in weight. The experimental result indicates 92.5% of the efficiency at input voltage 220Vac and 88.3% at input voltage 110Vac under 3.3kW of output power. And the output voltage ranges is from 150 V to 450V.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

This is based on electric cars, but the technology could be used for trains too, making the future for the IPEMU an exciting one. Network Rail’s principal engineer James Ambrose’s was quoted as saying “It’s a game-changer for the whole industry, It will affect absolutely everybody’s lives.”

We cannot wait to see how this progresses. If the electric powering the batteries comes from green sources, including hydro-electricity, solar and wind it would be an all out victory! What are your thoughts on this new technology?

2 thoughts on “How Many AA Batteries Does it Take To Run A Train?”

  1. Finally some intelligence. Now if our government would finally release Nikolai Tesla’s Technology or implement Hydryo, Hemp, Wind, Solar, Cold Fusion, Zero Point, etc. maybe, MAYBE we can get somewhere, yea? Kudos to the great people of Britain and all behind this project. There IS light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed.


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