There has been much talk, and quite a few examples in recent years of what are described as “Bi-mode” trains – in the UK, these are the 800 Class multiple units on the GWR, together with the 10 DRS Class 88 locomotives. Across Europe these are becoming more common too, and Bombardier’s “Mitrac” is another recent hybrid offering, with power from overhead contact systems, and a diesel engine.
But, these are not a new idea, just the latest incarnation of an idea more than a century old, with the first claim being made in 1889. This was the “Patton Motor Car”, which was followed in what was known as a “gas-electric hybrid system” applied to a tramcar at Pullman, Illinois. Also quick on the take up was Belgium, where in the 1890s, a petrol-electric vehicle was taking to the rails, also fitted with a generator and traction motors. British Westinghouse built a similar example, with a 100hp diesel engine, for the Great Central Railways in the early years of the 20th century. After the First World War, the hybrid approach took a step further forward in Belgium, with batteries – a collection of accumulators – an equally important step in hybrid developments.
It was not until the 1950s that a class of main line locomotives able to operate on electrified and non-electrified lines. During the early British Railways era, there was no example of main line ‘hybrid’ or electro-diesel locomotive, although the former private companies had begun experiments in non-steam traction, but with little significant growth.
Many of British Railways’ electro-diesel locomotives for the Southern Region are, amazingly perhaps, are still in regular operation. It was a unique solution to implement in the early 1960s, to provide go anywhere motive power, for a wide range of mixed traffic and shunting duties. The BR Modernisation Programme was in full swing, and diesels were replacing steam, but future electrification was on the overhead system, and the Southern’s 3rd rail network had limited potential.
This is a brief look at what BR developed, and its operations over many years:
- British Rail Class 73
- Electro Diesel Locomotives
- British Rail Class 88
- Bi-Mode Trains Unlocking Opportunity?