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Hitachi Sustainability

20 September 2021

Hitachi Accelerating Its Rail Commitment as COP26 Comes into View

With COP26 fast approaching, attendees will no doubt be considering the most sustainable forms of transport available to them to reach Glasgow. From rail and buses to electric vehicles (EVs), we at Hitachi have decades of experience, expertise and skill, both in manufacturing and in digital technologies. Hitachi is a Principal Partner of the event, and as a climate change innovator, we’re learning from the advances being made across these sectors and applying them to revolutionise the way we move.

Transport is responsible for 20% of the world’s CO2 emissions. The rise in EVs means travelling by car is starting to close the gap on trains as a sustainable mode of getting from A to B. But the reality is that if we are to meet our targets, public transport still has a critical role to play, and we can’t rest on our laurels: To reach net zero, diesel trains need to be replaced with more environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Railways set out on the journey to electrification years before cars, but the costs of transforming the track can be expensive, especially in places where the rail network is entirely geared towards diesel trains. But there are lessons we can learn from the switch in cars to electric, and Hitachi is able to bring together the experience from both our work in rail and automotive.

As such, we believe battery power is the most credible way of bringing the benefits of decarbonisation to the railway in the quickest possible timeframe. The benefits of batteries are two-fold: they allow existing diesel trains to be converted to electric, and they can tide trains over parts of the network where electrification isn’t viable or isn’t expected to be delivered soon. By combining battery power technology with electrification, we’re able not just to cut emissions, but to save money too.

Hitachi has experience in this field already. Our Dencha battery rail fleets will mark their five year anniversary in October next year, we’ve developed battery trams in Florence, and we’re currently developing a trial for an intercity battery hybrid train in the UK, running between London and South West England.

In the long-term, there’s also the potential for hydrogen technology, and Hitachi is currently testing an electric-hydrogen prototype, Hybari, in partnership with JR East and Toyota that could launch as early as spring next year. However, in the short-term, battery-electric solutions are more economical and efficient, and can be implemented now for swift sustainability results.

Aside from advances in how trains are powered, Hitachi is also working on reducing the impact of the railways on the environment in other ways. We’re building trains that weigh 50% less than their predecessors and are more energy efficient. For example, In Italy, a ‘Rock’ regional train running in Tuscany, Lombardy and Veneto weighs only 120 tonnes compared to the 280 tonnes of the Vivalto trains it replaced.

New and improved railways, like those we’ve worked on in Honolulu, Riyadh, and Panama, and high speed trains, where we’ve enhanced the signalling systems in Japan, Italy, France and the UK, also encourage passengers to make the modal shift from cars and planes to train travel. Taking Italy’s ‘Rock’ trains as an example again, each passenger generates only 5.1 grams of CO2 per kilometre compared with the average of 122 grams generated travelling by car.

We’re also bringing our expertise in digital technology to the table, introducing systems that can make operations and maintenance more efficient with zero infrastructure, to cut carbon emissions. For example, Hitachi has recently announced the acquisition of Thales’ Ground Transportation System business, which will allow us to apply the GreenSpeed™ driver advisory system to rail networks globally, optimising train speeds to cut energy consumption by 15%.

Similarly, through our Power Grids business, we can offer fast charging and electrification solutions, and our Perpetuum sensors are self-powering – because they don’t require batteries, every single fleet of trains using them saves 11 tonnes of toxic battery waste over their lifetime.

Closer to the summit, Hitachi trains have replaced older diesel trains for eight UK rail companies with a mixture of electric and bi-mode (electric and battery-powered) vehicles. So, if you happen to be travelling to COP26 this November from Edinburgh, bear in mind that the Hitachi 385 fleet on the Edinburgh to Glasgow route cut CO2 emissions by 10,358 tonnes in 2019 compared to the previous diesel fleet. Over 30 years that will equate to planting over 5 million trees or taking 2,238 cars off the road every year.

COP26 is getting ever closer, and thanks to innovations in railways, the route there is becoming more and more sustainable too.

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