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Quick charge trains are a gamechanger

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A COMPANY’S battery and hybrid trains have been creating sparks of recognition around the world.

Vivarail's train (53276156)
Vivarail's train (53276156)

Vivarail, which has its head offices at Kineton Road Industrial Estate, Southam, was praised by Prince Charles, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street earlier this month.

They were a few of the VIP passengers who rode on Vivarail’s electric train during the recent COP26 climate change conference in Scotland.

Vivarail was asked to operate its battery train, as part of an official Network Rail event at the conference. It became the first electric train to run across the Forth Bridge, demonstrating how it can run on non-electrified parts of the railway network.

The company has developed its own patented fast-charge system, which can recharge a battery in just ten minutes.

And it has just won an order to export two of its electric trains to the US.

Railroad Development Corporation (RDC), which owns the Iowa Interstate Railway, will use the battery trains as city centre shuttles.

One of the two-car battery trains is already running in Pennsylvania, while the second is currently being built here in the UK.

RDC, which is owned by rail entrepreneur Henry Posner II, has said it will order more in the future.

Vivarail is the brainchild of Adrian Shooter, a former chairman of Chiltern Railways. It launched seven years ago, after Shooter bought lightweight, Underground rolling stock with the idea of converting them to diesel-electric.The company began life in Long Marston, as Vivarail director Ian Wenman explained: “To store all the carriages we’d purchased, we needed 4.5km of track because 226 train carriages take up a lot of space.

“Long Marston had an old military rail site from World War II, so we put them there.”

When the site in Southam came up, the team relocated. Two-thirds of its 170 staff are based there, with most of the rest at a production site in the NorthEast.

Vivarail’s technology uses modular systems, which means it can easily convert diesel trains to battery.

The fast-charge tech comes with battery banks, or containers, filled with batteries that sit next to or behind the platform and can be used to power the trains when needed. These can operate on second-life, or recycled batteries.

Vivarail sold its first fleet of trains to West Midlands Railway, where they have been running on the Bedford to Bletchley line for the past three years.

They are diesel-electric but can be upgraded to become fully electric.

The company’s diesel-battery hybrid trains run on the Wrexham-Bidstone line for Transport for Wales, while South Western Railway uses a fleet of Vivarail’s electric trains on the Isle of Wight.

Alice Gillman, head of marketing for Vivarail, said: “Battery trains aren’t new but the ability to recharge so quickly is the game-changer.

“If you’re doing interim top-ups, you can do it in a couple of minutes.”

She added: “It’s a huge success for a small British company to be exporting electric trains.”

Vivarail has also been working for three years with South American company Remed on a project to bring zero-emission battery trains to Mexico.

The team is hoping for more international orders in the near future.

Wenman said: “Our product could be one of the main ways all battery trains are charged on the network in the UK and wider afield. That’s something we’re very excited by.”

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