Retrofit upgrade to 20 year old passenger train is set to cut fuel use by a quarter, slashing emissions and air pollution in the process

Efforts to cut carbon emissions across the UK rail network took a step forward this week, after Chiltern Railways brought the country’s first 100mph capable battery-diesel hybrid train into passenger service.

The HybridFLEX train is the result of a partnership with rail operator Chiltern Railways, train owner Porterbrook, and engineering giant Rolls-Royce, which took a 20-year-old diesel train and upgrade it with a new battery system to deliver a hybrid engine.

The companies said the resulting passenger train will use 25 per cent less fuel, while allowing the train to run solely on battery power when departing and arriving at stations. As a result it is expected to deliver a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions on every journey, as well as a 70 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxide, a 90 per cent cut in other pollutants, and reductions of up to 75 per cent in noise pollution in urban areas.

The two-carriage train will now run primarily between Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and London Marylebone on a near 40-mile journey.

The HybridFLEX train is the product of a four-year partnership between Chiltern Railways, Porterbrook, and Rolls- Royce, and the companies said they were now exploring also bringing the train to the London to Oxford via Bicester Village route in the coming months.

“We have worked hard with our partners to fit a powerful battery power pack underneath a 20-year old diesel train to make the train cleaner, quieter and quicker,” said Richard Allan, managing director for Chiltern Railway. “We are really proud that this concept train is now carrying customers and look forward to assessing its performance in daily service.”

Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, hailed the launch as “a significant first step in demonstrating how improvements to this fleet can reduce emissions and improve air quality both at stations and other locations across the network”.

Her comments were echoed by Warren East, chief executive at Rolls-Royce, who said the technology “enables the acceleration of the UK government ambition to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040, making rail journeys quieter, cleaner and faster”.

Similarly, Rail Minister Wendy Morton said the project was “another major leap forward” for the rail industry’s decarbonisation efforts. “We are working across transport to hit net zero by 2050 and it is brilliant to see our railways rising to the challenge,” she said.

Hybrid, battery, and hydrogen powered trains have taken on a greater importance in the UK’s rail decarbonisation efforts following the government’s controversial decision to shelve a number of planned rail electrification projects.

The latest news comes amidst growing calls on the government to address the funding shortfall rail operators are facing in the wake of the reduced passenger numbers caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with green transport campaigners fearing reduced timetables across the country could become permanent.

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