Rail operator launches new service powered by five a day

The UK has seen it first train journey undertaken by trains powered by vegetable oil in a move which has been described as “a strong step in the right direction towards a greener transport system.

Train operator Chiltern Railways has launched vegetable oil powered trains on its network – the first instance of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) being used in passenger service in the UK.

The operator’s Class 68 locomotive-hauled trains will be powered with this innovative fuel, derived from used cooking oils, tallows and other recyclable wastes, rather than conventional diesel, drastically reducing the impact the trains have on the environment and air quality across its network.

HVO fuel is made almost entirely from used cooking oils and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% and air particulates by 85%. Described as a fossil free drop-in alternative to conventional diesel fuel, HVO contains few impurities and burns cleanly. It can reduce other emissions such as NOx and Carbon Monoxide, depending on engine type and usage.

Although HVO fuel is more expensive to buy than conventional diesel, Chiltern said it has decided to switch to using HVO fuel as part of its plan to modernise and decarbonise its operations through its Right Route 2030 vision. This proposal sets out how fleet renewal and modernisation over the next decade will make journeys easier, greener and better for Chiltern customers.

“All HVO fuel used by Chiltern Railways has been previously used and recycled to power part of its fleet, and the conversion is another exciting opportunity to both decarbonise and improve customer experience,” it stated.

The Class 68 locomotives being fuelled with HVO haul six Mark III coaches when they are in passenger service, providing seating for more than 300 customers. Chiltern has 25 of these coaches, and 89 vehicles in the Class 165 diesel fleet that is 33 years old, and 85 vehicles in the Class 168 diesel fleet that is 23 years old.

Richard Allan, managing director for Chiltern Railways, said: “We are determined to operate a railway that is easier, greener, and better for our customers. The conversion of a key part of our fleet of trains to HVO fuel will make a big difference in terms of emissions.

“We have listened to customers and stakeholders who rightly highlighted air quality as a key concern to us, and have taken action to minimise the impact on the environment that these trains have through cleaner, greener fuel.

“This is a strong step in the right direction, and we want to do more. In the next few days, we will be inviting train manufacturers for proposals for new trains to replace our oldest diesel trains.”

UK rail minister Huw Merriman said:  “Trains are already one of the greenest ways to travel, and we want to build on this further by creating a rail industry that helps us achieve our ambitious net zero targets and delivers even more benefits for passengers.

“A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% is an incredible achievement that gets us one step closer to realising these and I commend Chiltern on pioneering this fuel.”

William Tebbit, chairman of Green Biofuels, said: “Our HVO allows diesel train fleets across the railway network to enjoy a greener drop-in alternative instead of diesel. This is crucial when you think of the air quality issues when trains are in stations and built-up areas. GBF is already supplying HVO to the rail freight sector and is delighted to now be supplying passenger trains.  Passengers, train and station staff can now enjoy much better air quality.”