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Author Topic: How can we make trains more energy efficient?  (Read 6770 times)

Offline thedoc

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How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« on: 02/10/2015 12:27:38 »
Trains are one of the most 'green' forms of travel, but how can we make them even more energy efficient?

Read the article then tell us what you think...
« Last Edit: 02/10/2015 12:27:38 by _system »


 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #1 on: 02/10/2015 21:03:56 »
Fill them with passengers.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #2 on: 02/10/2015 22:11:33 »
Make them lighter would be a good start.
 

Offline chris

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #3 on: 03/10/2015 08:18:19 »
How do they sync the phase of the regenerated supply coming off the train with the supply rail?
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #4 on: 03/10/2015 09:21:05 »
The presumption of "greenness" is false, surely.

To move people 200 miles, say from London to Manchester,  you need to destroy a strip of land 200 miles by at least 60  feet wide that cannot be crossed by wildlife, produces unacceptable noise pollution over at least 100 square miles, and involves the production and transport of thousands of tons of metal, concrete and gravel to make the infrastructure. You have to build new road and river bridges and tunnels and generally disrupt other traffic for about 5 years to build any railway.

The deadweight/payload ratio of a train is about 1 ton per passenger (Virgin Pendolino). A Boeing 737 travels at four times the speed of  a train, with one third of the deadweight per passenger, and requires no intermediate infrastructure - just a mile of runway at each end.

Since the passenger capacity of a Pendolino is about 500, and a 737, about 120, one aeroplane can replace one trainset and shift as many people per hour between London and Manchester without inconveniencing anyone on the ground in between. The service can start tomorrow, with no disruption of surface traffic.

The plane costs about 30 times as much as the train, but the infrastructure cost of a new railway completely dwarfs both considerations.

As for passenger convenience, the service interval is key. To shift the same number of people per day you would have to run 4 times as many flights as train journeys. So instead of, say, an hourly departure carrying 500 people for a 2-hour trip, you would have a flight every 15 minutes carrying 125 people for a 30 minute trip. Which is the more appealing, whether you are on business and have just  missed your train, or you have a squalling baby in arms and just want to get home asap? Or suppose you are on a business trip and the passenger next to you has a squalling baby?

One electrical fault, engine problem or dead sheep on the line will stop all trains for hours - and not only the Manchester shuttle. One faulty aeroplane does not prevent the 200 others from flying. If the runway at London City is congested, you can land at Stansted, Luton, Heathrow, Biggin Hill, Gatwick.... but you can't divert a train from Euston to Kings Cross. 

Airlines are not subsidised by the taxpayer.

So to make trains more efficient, put wings on them.

 
« Last Edit: 03/10/2015 11:10:08 by alancalverd »
 

Offline chris

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #5 on: 03/10/2015 13:34:59 »
But Alan, airports aren't just about aeroplanes - you have to factor in the footprint of the airport itself, the huge ancillary parking and transport burden - all those people don't live at the airport, they need to move themselves there, often by road - and the convenience cost of regular transport movements (although where UK rail is concerned, I know I am on shaky ground here).
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #6 on: 03/10/2015 14:25:08 »
But Chris, stations aren't just about trains - you have to factor in the footprint of the station itself (look at the marshalling yards outside all the London termini), the huge ancillary parking and transport burden - all those people don't live at the station, they need to move themselves there, often by road - and the convenience cost of regular transport movements.

The difference is that airports are usually outside town centres, so don't concentrate intercity traffic during rush hours when  the intracity traffic is at its peak. Next time you are in Manchester, Southampton, Leeds, or even London, compare the shambles around the railway station with the comparative calm of the airport (I'll admit the M25 around Heathrow is a mess, but Heathrow handled twice as many passengers as Euston last year). 

Given that we already have a few railways left after Beeching, the important question is what do we do next?If you really want to connect the "northern powerhouse" to London, don't waste money on a railway line that annoys everyone and takes forever to build: buy a plane and fly to Newcastle tomorrow. It's cheaper, too!  (£120 standard class to Kings Cross in 3 hrs, £75 to Stansted in 1:20)

Late edit: I just found some numbers....

Quote
The Government White Paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway states trains that travel at a speed of 350 kilometres per hour (220 mph) currently use 90% more energy than at 200 kilometres per hour (125 mph);[citation needed] which results in carbon emissions for a London to Edinburgh journey of approximately 14 kilograms (31 lb) per passenger for high-speed rail compared to 7 kilograms (15 lb) per passenger for conventional rail. Air travel uses 26 kilograms (57 lb) per passenger for the same journey. The paper questioned the value for money of high-speed rail as a method of reducing carbon emissions, but noted that with a switch to carbon-free or neutral energy production the case becomes much more favourable.[247]

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee Report in November 2011 (paragraph 77) concluded that the Government's claim that HS2 would have substantial carbon reduction benefits did not stand up to scrutiny. At best, the Select Committee found, HS2 could make a small contribution to the Government's carbon-reduction targets. However this was dependent on the government making rapid progress on reducing carbon emissions from UK electricity generation.

So the proposal to spend £80,000,000,000 of your money on building a railway line to carry 3 trains per hour won't save any carbon emissions. The same money could have bought 1000 aeroplanes, 10 of which would have brought intercity travel in England into the 20th century.
« Last Edit: 03/10/2015 23:49:08 by alancalverd »
 

Offline chris

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #7 on: 03/10/2015 23:42:28 »
Alan - can you help me with my query about syncing the phase of the regenerative output with the input line in systems designed to return electricity to the grid (as per what's in the article)?

C
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #8 on: 04/10/2015 00:15:50 »
The problem is handled every day when generators are coupled to the grid. Not sure how they intend to do it with any particular train but one method (used with windmills) is to generate a DC voltage which is then "chopped" into sync with the nominal 50 Hz grid. If the synchronisation is correct, the generator will always be supplying power to the grid, so measuring the current flow thoughout the cycle will demonstrate any loss of synchronisation. 

However it may not be necessary to feed power back to the grid. Passenger trains have a significant demand for secondary power for air conditionng, lighting, etc., which must be maintained when the primary power fails (which it often does!) so it makes sense to use braking power to charge the backup batteries.

One advantage of DC power for trains is clearly that you don't need to sync the regenerative braking system to put power back into the grid.
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #9 on: 04/10/2015 07:49:24 »
Quote from: Chris
How do they sync the phase of the regenerated supply coming off the train with the supply rail?
The fixed-frequency AC grid is good for getting power from generators that run at a fixed speed, and transfer it to motors that run at an (almost) fixed speed.

This doesn't work so well for motors that need to run at a variable speed, like motors in lifts and trains.

So many electric train lines run off DC. Traditional DC electric motors can be wired to provide high torque at low speed, and the coils then reconnected by relays to provide more torque at higher speeds. A fairly simple rectifier circuit converts the AC mains to DC; but conversion of DC back to AC mains is so complex that it was not widely used, in the past.

Modern electronics have allowed the production of high-powered electronic inverter circuits that are able to convert DC to AC, or AC to AC of a different frequency and phase. Inverters with capacity of kW are required on the solar cells we see on the roof of so many houses. Inverters with capacities of many MW are needed for high-voltage DC transmission systems. Railway and wind power inverters are intermediate in capacity.

So trains can convert the DC to variable-frequency AC for the motors of an individual train, and also apply braking force, converting the kinetic energy of the train back into DC.

Large inverters at the substation can convert excess energy from the trains into fixed-frequency AC that matches the voltage frequency and phase of the AC grid. They can adjust the current phase to draw power from the public grid, or inject power back into the public grid. Agreement is needed with the local power utility to ensure that their design can deal with the fluctuating voltages and currents that this induces on their network.
« Last Edit: 04/10/2015 13:19:47 by evan_au »
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #10 on: 04/10/2015 07:57:04 »
I had a minor quibble with one part of the article:
Quote from: Heather Douglas
the railway is split into electrically isolated ‘sections’, connected to one of the three [phases]
In fact, for well-regulated DC, the rectifier needs to draw power from all 3 phases of the AC mains, so that when one AC phase is near zero (and can deliver no power), the other phases can deliver power into the train's DC power line.

But the overall conclusion was correct, in that the train power system is split into sections along the length of the track, and the best way to share excess power between segments is via the public AC grid. 
 

Offline chris

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #11 on: 04/10/2015 08:46:13 »
Yes, she says that the trains use 25kV AC supplies; so are you suggetsing that the AC is converted to DC on the train and then motors are DC? Or are the trains still directly consuming AC? What mechanism is therefore likely used to feed energy between the trains, like she says? Will they have high-power inverters on the trains?
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #12 on: 04/10/2015 09:53:27 »
HS2 and indeed most modern intercity systems use 25 kV AC. This has considerable advantages for transmission, load balancing and arc suppression (low voltage DC trains can really light up the city when there's snow on the rails!) but does make regen braking a lot more complicated. If it were my problem, I'd build gradient approaches to new stations, adopt run-and-glide timetables, and use any residual regen power to charge batteries on the train.  And of course regen braking won't actually stop the train: it only produces a braking effect when the train is moving! So the "green" answer, as with a car or a plane, is to modify your speed profile so you don't arrive with any spare energy.
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #13 on: 04/10/2015 10:47:27 »
Quote from: Heather Douglas
Typically, railways run on 25kV AC or between 600V-3000V DC.
The use of AC or DC is a tradeoff which is up to the designer. Traditional electromechanical trains and trams often used DC.

Now that the price of high-power electronics has plummeted, it really doesn't matter whether the motors are AC or DC, or whether the supply voltage to the train is AC or DC - it is really quite easy to convert between AC & DC, and easy to convert from DC or fixed-frequency AC to variable-frequency AC.

With high-speed trains, what matters is that the voltage should be as high as practical, because the higher voltage transmits more power over longer distances with lower losses.

As Alan states, it is easier to build AC circuit-breakers.

It is also easier to convert AC at one voltage to AC at a different voltage, using transformers. If the train line overhead wires were powered by AC, it would be easier to power each section of each track from one phase of the grid.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #14 on: 04/10/2015 12:34:52 »
The presumption of "greenness" is false, surely.

hang on!, you can't say that and then quote a source for carbon emissions that says
"7 kilograms (15 lb) per passenger for conventional rail. Air travel uses 26 kilograms (57 lb) per passenger for the same journey. "
And that's before worrying about stratospheric pollution.

Also, re. " Next time you are in Manchester, Southampton, Leeds, or even London, compare the shambles around the railway station with the comparative calm of the airport (I'll admit the M25 around Heathrow is a mess, but Heathrow handled twice as many passengers as Euston last year).  "

 Heathrow handles roughly twice as many passengers as Euston.
And it is 5km long and 2.5 km wide  ie 12.5 sq km
Euston is about 300 m by 500  ie 0.15 sq km

Did in to occur to you that part of the relative calm of the airport is simply because each passenger has eighty times as much space?

You have also forgotten that about 40% of air passengers at Heathrow got there on public transport- often by rail.
Heathrow is a pretty big railway station.

The UK's intercity 125 trains run on diesel.
They are, in effect, hybrids.
It's likely that any new rail links would be electrified and the plans for HS2 suggest 25KV AC- the same as most electric trains in the UK.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #15 on: 04/10/2015 12:37:05 »
Oops, sorry, only 40 items as much space I forgot about the passenger numbers.
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #16 on: 04/10/2015 13:44:47 »
Quote from: BoredChemist
Make (trains) lighter
You could design a passenger train as light as an aeroplane, but it would lose some of the safety of the traditional steel train chassis (and it might be more expensive than current train construction methods).

Quote from: alancalverd
(a train) produces unacceptable noise pollution
Planes are not exactly quiet, either...

Back to design tradeoffs; surely...
  • A train can save a fair amount of energy from frequent stops with regenerative braking. I have not yet seen a plane which regenerates av-gas when it descends towards the destination airport.
  • A plane is most economical when traveling at high altitude, due to reduced wind resistance. A train is pretty much limited to ground-level air pressure.
  • A train has an advantage carrying high-mass/low value goods. You don't normally weigh the passenger baggage on a train.
  • A plane has an advantage with low-mass/time-critical goods (at higher speeds).
  • The most dangerous location for a plane is when it is traveling within 10m of the ground/tarmac; the safest location for a train is when it is within 10m of the ground/rails.
  • So planes have an advantage for long routes where they spend a small fraction of it near the ground; and trains have an advantage for very short routes between points on the ground.

Occasionally, proposals surface for vacuum tube or pressure tube trains, which might shuffle some of the above priorities, but at greatly increased capital cost and safety risks...
« Last Edit: 04/10/2015 22:18:59 by evan_au »
 

Offline chris

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #17 on: 04/10/2015 15:19:43 »
So just to close the loop on my question (sorry, but we keep skirting the issue) in case someone else is reading this:

You're theory would be that the train will probably have inverters on it that match up the "regenerated" electricity with the supply phase and then inject the current in sync? Or it's DC in the first place and then relatively easy to sync it up.

C
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #18 on: 04/10/2015 16:24:07 »
Chris: yes. If it's an AC supply you need a synchronous inverter, with DC supply things are a bit easier, but either way you are relying on the elasticity of the grid to absorb the braking power.

BC: Heathrow is a very oldfashioned airport, built in the days of marginal takeoff and crosswind performance when you needed at least three 60-degree runways and swampland was cheap. London City is an example of what can be achieved: transatlantic and commuter flights from less than a quarter of a square mile - it's not much bigger than Kings Cross.

As for carbon emissions, you pays your money and takes your pick. The faster you go, by whatever means, the more juice you burn. But it's important to consider the lifetime emission of the whole system. Raw steelmaking produces about 2 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of steel, and you can probably add another 0.5 for transporting and reforming it into a product in place. Two railway tracks weigh 1660 tonnes per mile, so just making the rails for a 200 mile track from London to Manchester will emit  830,000,000 kg of CO2, enough to transport 62,000,000 passengers by air over the same distance in less than half the time.
« Last Edit: 05/10/2015 13:36:22 by alancalverd »
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #19 on: 04/10/2015 19:42:40 »
Apples<> oranges
You seem to have overlooked the considerable amount of metal used to make aeroplanes from. Plenty of our rolling stock is old- decades old. I know three are some old planes out there but they are to some extent like grandfather's axe. It's had three new handles and two new heads, but it's still going strong after all these years. So I rather suspect that making planes uses a lot of energy too, especially if you wan twelve billion passenger miles.
A full cost benefit analysis is beyond the realms of a discussion site like this but, as you say, going fast needs a lot more fuel.

That's rather at odds with the claim that "The presumption of "greenness" is false, surely."


 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #20 on: 04/10/2015 21:49:06 »
OK, the easy way - and probably the only effective way - to make trains greener is to make them slower.

You may be able to improve blunt-face drag by fitting suburban commuter trains with a false nose, but that introduces complications when you want to couple them together or negotiate sharp bends, and it doesn't affect the main fuselage drag. High speed trains are probably as drag-efficient as you can make them without compromising safety and ride quality. If you want them to go fast they either need a heavy undercarriage or steeply banked curves, but you can't run freight traffic on a steep bank, so we are back to destroying the countryside and making another load of steel just for passenger trains. That philosophy worked for the TGV and various Asian bullet trains, but nobody ever claimed it was a green alternative.

So the question is how much energy can be conserved by regenerative braking? Once again, it's all down to speed.

If you just switch off the engines of a 737, it will glide 85 miles from 30,000 ft and land at a comfortable 120 knots. The additional journey time for a 200 mile trip works out at about 5 - 10 minutes compared with maintaining cruise power up to final approach.

So what happens if you wind your train up to 200 mph, switch off the power, and coast down to 50 mph? That's a lot more efficient than trying to pump energy back into the grid in order to decelerate quickly. So ideally, you would only use regen braking as an adjunct to friction braking, in an emergency (remember it doesn't work well at low speeds). But if your friction brakes are adequate, you can save weight by eliminating the regen system, and enhance friction braking by opening slots on your aerodynamic fairings to slow down.  Regenerative braking is a Good Thing for short journey legs, so great for road traffic and even underground trains, but not the obvious solution for intercity trains.

Apropos the CO2 cost of building an aeroplane: Assume it is all made of aluminium (the most energy-intensive component). That requires about 12 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of finished product. So making one 80 tonne 737 generates 960,000 kg of CO2 - enough to make about 0.25 miles of railway track. It will cover about 10,000,000 miles in a conservative service life of 20,000 hours (modern jet engines last about 10,000 hours and you'd probably replace the soft furnishings at the same time, but a modern metal hull is pretty much indestructible). A 400-tonne train requires about 800,000 kg of CO2 to manufacture and will probably last 40 years and cover half that distance.

So the train is marginally greener as long as it can run on existing tracks, but as soon as you build or replace a couple of miles of track, it would have been better to use a plane.
« Last Edit: 05/10/2015 13:33:35 by alancalverd »
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #21 on: 07/10/2015 23:17:14 »
I am an engineer who has had an excellent carreer,

Excellent news. How would you make trains more energy efficient?
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #22 on: 08/10/2015 20:04:37 »
I am very sorry for the remarks last night, I was tired and irritated with something else that happened over a 1000 years ago.

Wow! Talk about bearing a grudge - you deserve a medal!

Maglev certainly addresses the problem of maintaining stability without increasing frictional losses, but do you have any energy data on the systems? I had some fun with early Laithwaite linear motors but only using resistive magnets to shift very small loads - I don't think the word "efficiency" ever passed our lips. Supercons make great headlines but my experience with high temperature supercons in MRI is that the cost (i.e. energy consumption)  of continuous refrigeration when the device is idle, exceeds the cost of powering up a resistive magnet of the same field strength for a 50% duty cycle, and in practice it's just one more bloody thing to go wrong (as an engineer you will appreciate this).

Pity about the Advanced Passenger Train, but the whole business of high speed rail travel over short distances surely needs rethinking. If you travel between London and Birmingham at 100 mph it will take about an hour. At 125 mph the same train will save 12 minutes but will need 1.5 times as much power and expend 1.25 times the energy to overcome the aerodynamic drag.  Increasing the speed to 150 mph requires another 44% power increase to save a further 8  minutes....a seriously big engine to get a seriously small return!
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #23 on: 21/10/2015 01:06:12 »
Maglev trains are actually more efficient than normal trains. The energy needed to lift them is smaller than their air conditioning takes, and they get to the destination slightly faster, which also cuts the energy used. They also have lower wear and tear on the track and are less prone to 'wrong kind of snow' issues.

The downside is that their tracks are about a couple of times the cost of conventional trains, so they're expensive to install.
 

Offline syhprum

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #24 on: 21/10/2015 01:28:34 »
I recently spent four an a half hours driving from Maidstone to Heathrow to collect my Son flying in from Frankfurt, air travel for a few hundred miles is one of the slowest and miserable forms of travel possible.
I told him to use the train next time.
 

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Re: How can we make trains more energy efficient?
« Reply #24 on: 21/10/2015 01:28:34 »

 

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