Can wind and Sun power run UK’s Network Rail trains on time?

BRITAIN’S RAIL NETWORK has been looking at becoming a self-sufficient electricity generator amid fears national power shortages could cause a crisis for the country’s trains.

Network Rail has confirmed it has examined the option, which could in future include wind farms and solar energy plants, and that it remains a “live issue”.

Rail bosses are concerned about warnings from electricity regulator Ofgem that dwindling capacity in the next five years could cause widespread power cuts.

The rail network, via its supplier EDF, is already National Grid’s biggest customer, sucking in about three per cent of Britain’s electricity, equivalent to 3,200GWh last year.

But that figure is predicted to soar to 4.5 per cent over the next five years as major routes, such as the Great Western Main Line to south Wales, complete their overhead wiring projects.

In the longer term, the completion of high speed rail, which will need another 2,000GWh every year, means Network Rail’s demand for electricity will almost double current levels.

That rise in demand also increases the likelihood of blackouts in Britain’s homes as consumers compete for power.

Although trains are becoming better at preserving electricity through special braking systems, customer demand for air conditioning and extra power points for gadgets only adds to the problems.

Network Rail has drawn up contingency plans to tackle short-term emergencies.

During any prolonged power cuts, it will insist operators run diesel trains on electrified routes and it will find alternative ways to signal trains.

Rail experts also predict that the National Grid might reduce the voltages to suppliers such as EDF, which could mean slower trains.

The nightmare scenarios have forced Network Rail to undertake a “future-proofing” exercise.

To reduce reliance on the National Grid, Network Rail has been considering generating its own electricity.

Strategists have already conducted one feasibility study, but they have refused publish the details other than to say generating their own electricity is not feasible “for now”.

A Network Rail spokesman told RailNews “We constantly review all elements of our electricity supply including the feasibility of producing our own electricity.