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Europe’s First Battery-Powered Trains Are Here

The tribrid trains now running in Italy can switch between battery power, electricity and diesel

Europe’s first trains to use batteries as a main source of power have arrived. Hitachi Rail announced last week that 20 tribrid trains—nicknamed “Blues”—are now running on rail lines across Italy.

The trains have the ability to switch between battery power, electricity and diesel. They can travel roughly ten miles relying only on batteries, which recharge on their own as the train rolls down the tracks. The batteries can replenish themselves whenever the train is braking or by drawing electricity from an overhead apparatus that connects the train to a power line, reports CNN’s Julia Buckley. 

Each train can accommodate up to 300 passengers and has three to four cars. While the trains—which are made from 93 percent recyclable materials—can technically reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour, an onboard driver advisory system will recommend the optimal speed to help reduce energy use.

Compared to trains that rely exclusively on diesel, the new hybrids will reduce fuel consumption by 50 percent, according to Hitachi.

“The Blues train, with its pioneering battery hybrid technology, is a hugely important way for railways across Europe to reduce their carbon emissions while improving passengers’ journeys,” Andrew Barr, group CEO of Hitachi Rail, told Euronews’ Pascale Davies last year.

The batteries will help make the trains quieter, which will benefit residents who live along the routes. The trains are designed to make boarding easier for passengers with limited mobility, and they accommodate mountain bikes, snowboards and other leisure equipment.

Right now, the Blues are running alongside other, non-battery-powered trains in Sicily, Sardinia, Tuscany, Lazio, Calabria and Friuli Venezia Giulia. And the 20 that rolled out this summer are just the beginning: Soon, a total of 135 battery-powered trains will be ferrying passengers across the country as part of a $1.34 billion (€1.23 billion) project. In the next two years, Hitachi plans to release an upgraded model of the train that can travel up to 62 miles using only battery power.

Around the world, train manufacturers are implementing other innovative strategies to help reduce their environmental impact. In Germany, trains powered entirely by hydrogen began running in the northern state of Lower Saxony last fall. This summer, North America’s first hydrogen-powered train began running in Canada.

In recent years, European rail operators have also been making efforts to electrify their tracks. But progress has been slow so far, and more than half of the continent’s trails still run on diesel. In light of these difficulties, Hitachi says that battery-powered trains may offer “an immediate solution to help decarbonise European passenger rail.”

Source : Smithsonian Magazine