United Kingdom

Trains: Engines powered by human waste and discarded food could be introduced to Britain's railways

As part of plans to phase out dirty diesel engines, trains powered by human waste and discarded food could be introduced to the rolling stock of Britain's railways.

The 'BioUltra' railcar is the brainchild of a team of engineers led by the Worcester-based Ultra Light Rail Partners — and will be able to carry up to 120 passengers.

With a top speed of 50 mph, the 66 feet (20m) long car will turn biomethane gas into electrical power which will charge the train's batteries and drive its motors.

The development is being support by a £60,000 grant from Innovate UK, the Government's non-departmental research-funding agency.

This is the second such grant that the team have been awarded. The previous, for £350,000, was used to build a smaller, 60-person railcar earlier this year.

This demo 'mini train' — which was around 33 feet (10m) long and weighed some 12 tonnes — was put through its paces at Motorail’s Long Marston test facility in July.

In the wake of COVID-19, however, the new train will sport health features such as UV lighting, virus-killing copper surfaces, plastic shields and robust ventilation.

As part of plans to phase out dirty diesel engines, trains powered by human waste and discarded food (pictured) could be introduced to the rolling stock of Britain's railways

'Biomethane can be proved, without doubt, to be the most environmentally friendly fuel,' said Ultra Light Rail Partners' technical director, Christopher Maltin.

'I am delighted that, following on from producing the world’s first tram-train to be powered by biomethane, this locally produced and sustainable fuel will continue to be used for this new railcar.'

'The combination of biomethane as the fuel and the absence of any particulates from tyre degradation or road abrasion will result in the cleanest form of public transport, both in terms of air quality […] and climate change,' he added.

The train will run on regular-gauge tracks but — thanks to its lightweight build — will cause less wear-and-tail on the rails, helping to lower network maintenance costs.

The team envisage the BioUltra cars operating 'turn-up-and-go' shuttle services on existing lines — and hope they will be used on recently re-opened lines as part of the Government's plans to reverse the 'Beeching Axe' of the 1960s–early 1970s. 

The Government have established a £500 million fund to undo these closures and reconnect towns across Great Britain to the national railway network.

Planned developments include, for example, by linking Stourbridge town and Brierley Hill in the Midlands and adding a shuttle service between Great Malvern and the new Worcestershire Parkway station. 

The team envisage the BioUltra cars operating 'turn-up-and-go' shuttle services on existing lines — and hope they will be used on recently re-opened lines as part of the Government's plans to reverse the 'Beeching Axe' of the 1960s–early 1970s. The Government have established a £500 million fund to undo these closures and reconnect towns across Great Britain to the national railway network. Pictured, the remains of the stations at Middleton-in-Teesdale (left) and Llangybi, Wales (right) which were lost during the 'Beeching Axe'

'We are delighted to have been awarded our second grant by Innovate UK having successfully completed our first Innovate UK project in developing the UK’s first-of-a-kind biomethane-powered railcar,' said BioUItra project lead Beverley Nielsen.

'This really is a vote of confidence in our business which is fully focussed on providing lightweight affordable railcar travel as a comfortable, modern, reliable and safe alternative to travelling by car.'

'We want to be able to offer this option to larger towns and smaller cities around the UK so they can realistically take polluting vehicles out of their city and town centres improving quality of life for all.'

'Recent monitoring by Sustainability West Midlands identified that reducing the levels of just one pollutant, PM2.5, by 50 per cent would prevent as many as 952 deaths in the West Midlands alone each year.'

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