posted on 27th Jul 2023 08:00
On 27 June 2023, Hitachi published a press release announcing "First battery train in Europe completes phase one roll out", and "Hitachi Rail has completed phase one of its production of ground-breaking battery Masaccio train at Hitachi Rail’s factory in Pistoia, near Florence, and are operating on routes across the length and breadth of Italy". The mentioned order is for 135 three-mode trains, for Trenitalia named Blues. These are based on Hitachi's Masaccio family and are supplied in three-car configuration as the Class HTR.312 and four-car one as the Class HTR.412, see InnoTrans report part 41.
These trains were indeed the first batch-built units with traction batteries in regular service in Europe (apart from such cases as the prototype Talent 3 BEMU), as the launch of the first of 55 FLIRT AKKU units for NAH.SH is still being delayed due to the longer approval process for the new Class 526. The FLIRT AKKUs were originally scheduled to enter service in November 2022, then there was talk of this April, after which NAH.SH said in late May that they would not enter service until December 2023.
Following our request Stadler stated that "The receipt of the authorisation for placing into service of the battery-electric FLIRT AKKU units for Schleswig-Holstein has been postponed until the second half of 2023. Delivery delays of relevant parts such as computer chips triggered by the war in Ukraine have led to the postponement because certification runs relevant for approval could not take place in time on the public network."
The Blues units, however, are three-mode trains, as the Class HTR (Hybrid Treno Rapido) designation suggests, with electric, diesel and battery (BDEMU) drives; they are not, therefore, battery-only units (BEMU) as is the case with the FLIRT AKKUs or, for example, the Mireo Plus B.
Each Blues have two hybrid traction systems, each of which, in addition to the 736 kW MTU diesel engine, also has 66 kWh batteries (consisting of two 33 kWh BORDLINE ESS liquid-cooled LTO batteries). The batteries therefore offer a total capacity of 132 kWh, which is not much for a four-car train weighing 162.2 t with a power output of 1,170 kW in catenary-off mode (by simply dividing the battery capacity by the power of the traction motors, this is theoretically sufficient for 6.7 min of full traction power, but in reality it will be much less, given the losses not only in the traction inverter but also keeping in the mind the usual avoidance of full battery capacity cycling, which shortens its lifespan).
Although Hitachi does not declare any value for the train's working range in the battery mode (in the case of conventional hybrids this is not expected as the battery serves as a secondary power source for accelerating and its main purpose is to reduce the peak load of the main power source, typically the combustion engine, or to replace it instead of idling mode and thus save fuel, and the battery is not meant to be main source limiting the range), however, for comparison, just for example, the 29 t weighing SOR TNS 18 articulated trolleybuses, ordered on 14 January 2022 for Praha, have a battery capacity of 106 kWh, traction power of 240 kW and a working range of only 12 km (the battery is in this case theoretically sufficient for 26 min of full traction power, again without counting losses purely for comparison of obtainable values, although of course this is a different type of vehicle and operation). In the case of purely BEMUs FLIRT AKKU or Mireo Plus B, their manufacturers also do not specify the traction battery capacity.
Thus, the basic propulsion of the Blues units in catenary-off regime remains the diesel engine. Of course, the benefits of hybrid propulsion remains, which are in particular fuel savings during accelerating and better dynamics thanks to the support of the traction battery, as well as less noise, but the goal of emission-free operation on non-electrified lines has not been achieved yet, although the manufacturer indicates a reduction in fuel consumption in diesel traction of up to 50 % compared to a DMU of the same parameters.
This is why Hitachi states that it intends to develop the Masaccio platform further and plans to launch a new model within two years, this time a truly battery-only model (but without specifying whether it will be a BMU or BEMU) with an expected working range of more than 100 km. In addition, Hitachi states that it foresees the possibility of replacing the existing three-mode drive of the Blues units by an (electric)battery drive. The Class HTR.312 and HTR.412 units have so far been deployed in Sicily, Sardinia, Tuscany, Lazio, Calabria and Friuli Venezia Giulia.