A prototype battery-powered train will carry its first passengers on Britain’s rail network this week.
It has been developed by a team including Network Rail, Bombardier, Abellio Greater Anglia, FutureRailway and the Rail Executive arm of the Department for Transport, which is co-funding the project.
Battery-powered trains are believed to have the potential to bridge gaps between electrified parts of the network and branch lines where it would be too expensive to install overhead electrification.
Network Rail said it carried out “successful retrofitting and trials” on test tracks in Derby and Leicestershire last year.
For the next five weeks, a modified Class 379 Electrostar battery-powered train – also known as an Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit (IPEMU) – will run a weekday timetable service between Harwich International and Manningtree stations in Essex.
Network Rail principal engineer James Ambrose said: “We’ve made terrific progress with this project so far, and seeing the battery-powered train in timetabled service is a huge step forward.
“After months of engineering and testing, the train is running just as we would like it. We’ll be using this six-week period to gather data on how it handles during passenger service – most travellers will recognise how quiet and smooth the ride is compared to a diesel-powered train.
“We are always looking for ways to reduce the cost of running the railway and make it greener too. This project has the potential to contribute significantly towards both those goals.”
Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “This is a major milestone in this innovative project, and further proof of our commitment to deliver a world-class rail network fit for the 21st century.
“These trains potentially offer a real alternative where diesel or electrified services aren’t suitable, and I look forward to seeing the results of the trials.”
Battery locomotives have been used on railways for around 100 years, including in munitions factories during World War 1 to avoid the risk of explosion from sparks emitted by steam locomotives. London Underground currently has a fleet of battery locomotives used on engineering trains when the power is switched off for track maintenance and improvement work.