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Northern Ireland studies Welsh electrification model

Public Transport

20 March 2020

Northern Ireland’s state public transport operator Translink is considering whether it can electrify Northern Ireland’s railways by applying the Core Valley Lines model in South Wales.

Until recently, rail electrification was not on Translink’s agenda. Its latest rolling stock order comprises 21 more vehicles to lengthen its Class 4000 diesel units. However, Translink chief executive Chris Conway recently told MLAs: “With the decarbonisation of public transport, we will have to consider some electrification. 

“New technologies on trains mean that they can now operate in bi-mode. They can have batteries and electrification, which means that they need only partial electrification of the network.”

Conway recently visited Transport for Wales and learnt about its electrification programme for the Core Valley Lines. “It has bi-mode trains and is looking at partial electrification. We are keen to find out how well that would work and whether it is technology that we could use to decarbonise our entire local public transport network.”

Most of the Core Valley Lines will have overhead power supply but the trains will switch to batteries to pass under bridges and through a tunnel, avoiding the cost and disruption of rebuilding bridges to provide headroom for live equipment.

Conway said Translink and Irish Rail were appraising improvements to the Enterprise service between Belfast and Dublin, to provide hourly frequency initially but also journey time reductions and ultimately electrification. 

The Republic of Ireland’s National Development Plan for 2018-2027 includes electrification from Malahide, where electric DART trains currently terminate, to Drogheda, approximately half way between Dublin and the border.

Translink operates some hybrid diesel/electric buses, including its Belfast Glider articulated buses. In January, it ordered three hydrogen buses, part-funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles.

Conway said: “Queen’s University is going to do a piece of collaborative work with us to assess which routes are best used for hydrogen and electric or even whether to maintain diesel for a longer time.

“We plan that our future procurement for Metro in Belfast and Foyle Metro will all involve either a hybrid or a full electric fleet. We will then start the transition for Ulsterbus [services outside Belfast] and Goldline [scheduled coaches] beyond that.”

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