Turning a 1960s locomotive into a driving power pioneer of the 2060s


A British tech company is working to transform a Class 37 diesel locomotive from the 1960s into a hybrid drive unit that could be put into service in the 2060s. Motive Zero, the company behind the project, is also working on an even older design, the pre-war locotractor designated class 08, with the same ambition.

Tests are underway for two retro locomotives, both equipped with state-of-the-art hybrid power technology. Decarbonisation specialist Motive Zero has become the first company to occupy facilities at the Dudley Very Light Rail site in the English West Midlands, a research and testing center supported by local authorities and central government. The hybrid project also received an award from the Department of Transport and Innovate UK’s ‘First of A Kind’ scientific research and railway innovation program.

Economic regeneration

Motive Zero and their partner, Meteor Power, will use the recently opened test track to undertake pioneering work to hybridize a Class 37 diesel locomotive as well as a Class 08 diesel locomotive, making them cleaner and more energy efficient . The project supports Dudley’s civic ambition to become a recognized international center for railway innovation.

Funding for the installation has been agreed with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to the tune of £ 13m (€ 14.5m). The Combined Local Authority has also supported the Very Light Rail (VLR) program as part of its broader vision for the West Midlands. The industrial region, widely known as the Black Country, has suffered an economic decline, and projects like this and the construction of HS2 are seen as examples of regenerative developments at sunrise.

Updated pre-war design for the new century

Class 37 has been, for decades, one of the main freight and passenger operating stations in the UK. Over 300 units were built at factories in the north of England during the first half of the 1960s. The units, with a characteristic running note which earned them the nickname “growlers”, are still in daily service. widespread, with nearly 70 registered for operations.

For the avoidance of doubt, and despite appearances, the alternative fuel system for this Class 08 at the North Tyneside Steam Railway is not coal (Image Paul Rowland)

Even older, the Class 08 locotractor was developed from a design that first operated in 1932, before the sixteen-year-old British rail network was nationalized. Although largely redundant due to changing markets and working practices, around 100 units are still active, or around ten percent of the entire production cycle. However, the technology partners see the potential to prove their updates and encourage more conversion work on a wider range of motive power.

The largely unsupported freight sector

“It has been fascinating to hear the team talk about the breakthrough technologies they are exploring,” said Dudley advisor Simon Phipps, cabinet member for Regeneration and Enterprise. “I am delighted to welcome Motive Zero as we take the next steps on our journey to become world leaders in rail innovation and greener transportation solutions.

Dudley Council supports national innovation center Very Light Rail as part of larger West Midlands economic initiative (WikiCommons)

Mike Edwards, director of Motive Zero, said it was passenger rail that usually made the headlines, leaving the freight industry largely unsupported when it came to reducing emissions. “Hybrid-electric powertrain conversions allow freight operators to reduce operating costs and leverage the value of existing assets, thereby reducing capital expenditure and avoiding the high greenhouse gas emissions generated by the construction of new locomotives. Once proven, Motive Zero will attract work to convert many more locomotives to the Dudley site, to help move the rail freight industry towards net zero emissions.

The arrival in Grand Prix is ​​only the beginning

An operating company, the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organization (BCIMO) was created to oversee the operation of the Very Light Rail National Innovation Center. The obvious focus may not be on freight, but if the transformation of old, heavy diesel locomotives into more environmentally friendly hybrid units works for Motive Zero, then rail freight can once again pave the way for industry and the national economy as a whole.

Motive Zero, originally based on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit, made its debut as the popular British Touring Car Championship welcomed its first competitor in a hybrid vehicle. The race, which was held coincidentally at Silverstone, did not see a decisive victory as hybrid technology gradually moved up the starting grid.


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