Thursday, July 29, 2021

Government Grants to Modernise Rail System Contain Some Freight Specific Awards

Money Available to Advance Track Borne Cargoes
Shipping News Feature

UK – Sprinkled amongst the awards from government for the 'First of a Kind' rail initiative aimed mainly at passenger transport, the £9 million scheme to drive innovation on Britain's railways also contains a few projects which have been awarded funding specifically targeting the carriage of freight.

UK 2050 net carbon-neutral and DfT 2040 ‘no diesel-only’ targets are challenging for the rail industry. The issue is more acute for Freight Operating Companies (FOCs) where a legacy fleet of mostly diesel locomotives will be operational for the next two decades and amplified by only 44% of the GB network being electrified.

The awards, from the Department for Transport and Innovate UK, and ambitiously aimed at ‘finding this century’s Brunel’ include cargo specific projects such as proving the feasibility of using hydrogen and low carbon gas to power dual fuel freight a transition technology. It is proposed that this will deliver a demonstration of a Class 66 running on hydrogen, a hydrogen gas blend or biomethane with low emissions across the drive cycle, particularly at idle where rail industry air quality issues currently exist.

This project is led by Clean Air Power GT Ltd with support from Freightliner Group Ltd, Network Rail, RSSB, Tarmac, Flogas, University of Birmingham and Carrickarory Consulting Ltd.

Freightliner is also associated with another of the successful applicants. Along with a consortium of specialist suppliers the intention is to develop a Rail Freight Energy and Emissions Calculator (REEC) that will be deployed on the existing NR+ platform used for rail- freight planning. The NR+ platform, developed by University of Hull, is the first digital platform that fully captures the UK rail network capability from a freight operator’s perspective, including data on loading gauge, permitted weight and electrification constraints.

It will be augmented with route gradient and line speed data, together with high-accuracy train performance modelling, intended to deliver a low-cost intelligent emissions calculation and mapping solution. The aim is that rail freight operators and customers will be able to calculate precise energy and emissions estimates for their routes, easily model the performance limitations of different traction options and varying train loads, or compare rail freight with other transport modes to determine the effects of modal shift on overall emissions.

With just 44% of the UK network currently electrified and no more than 80% likely to be electrified in the next few decades, an REEC can also be used to analyse the freight impact of different electrification plans, options, and alternatives. Freight operators are actively pursuing ways to decarbonise diesel trains, which is not just a matter of switching to lower carbon energy sources but also operating more efficiently, for example by operating longer trains that are more energy and emissions efficient.

The lead organisation on this particular project, the University of Hull, says it has successfully developed the NR+ platform and demonstrated its ability to combine big data and analytics to deliver scalable rail applications. The energy and emissions calculations will be led by consultants from Aether and Carrickarory, who have worked with Department for Transport and Rail Safety Standards Board on rail emissions understanding and reduction, and an expert from the University of Derby.

Another funding winner is the TRACO project from Incremental Solutions Ltd. This aims to improve intermodal transmissions pushing for infrastructure improvements to terminals whilst providing improved, accurate tracking and predictions of arrivals for all vehicles, wagons and containers within the supply chain. By reducing paper based systems and with this information readily available, rail freight growth opportunities such as high-speed deliveries and perishable goods can be realised.

Then there is the Decarbonisation & Electrification of Freight Terminals (DEFT Project). This promotes the development of Furrer+Frey's Moveable Overhead Conductor-rail System (MOCS) an innovative retractable overhead system that enables the electrification of freight terminals whilst also allowing obstruction-free loading and unloading of freight.

The sponsors say MOCS eliminates the need for tug/shunting locomotives to manoeuvre electric trains into and out of freight terminals, eliminating the current barrier to end-to-end rail freight electrification, ending the reliance on diesel, and enabling the decarbonisation of the rail freight industry.

The pity is of course that the inefficiency of successive governments in electrifying more of the UK’s rail system has necessitated many of the schemes now proposed. It seems those DfT2040 ‘no more diesel trains’ ambitions expressed in Jo Johnson’s rambling 2018 speech, with a vision of battery powered trains to link between the scarce electrified sections didn’t allow for the fact that no money was being made available to attain such lofty ambitions.

Photo: Image courtesy of the Port of Felixstowe.