TU Dresden, University of Birmingham and Rock Rail Launch Research Collaboration

The TU Dresden, the University of Birmingham and Rock Rail have entered into a research collaboration to study innovative battery technology as an environmentally friendly alternative traction technology for the rail sector.

The two academic institutions have joined forces to investigate battery traction technology for the railways. Rock Rail, which leases rolling stock to TOCs among other things, is the initiator behind the project. It says the research work will foster its operations in Germany, where it wishes to make rolling stock with modern and environmentally friendly combined electric and battery traction technology available in the German market.

The project is one of four international projects housed at BTS Rail Saxony’s SET4FUTURE rail innovation cluster.

Dresden tram in TU Dresden livery

One way in which rail can contribute to reducing the overall carbon footprint of the transport sector is by making its traction greener. Electrification is already a green and – depending on the source of the electricity – emission-free option for powering trains. Of Germany’s total rail network, 60 percent is electrified and this 60 percent sees 90 percent of all traffic volume.

Leaving aside the question of whether electrifying a greater percentage of the network is economically viable, it remains an option for non-electrified routes to run services that have low-carbon propulsion alternatives to diesel. And it is these options that the collaboration between TU Dresden and the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education wants to investigate.

Arnd Stephan, Chair for Electric Railways, TU Dresden, said:

“For more than 10 years we have been conducting research on alternative electric propulsion for modern rail vehicles. Now this topic has reached the public market and requires a swift assessment of the various operating options. We can achieve this with the conjoint support of our colleagues in Birmingham in the best manner. Railways are a European transport vehicle and therefore require solutions on a European level.”


The project will have a runtime of three months. During this time, researchers will examine the potential of battery technologies to replace traditional diesel traction on Germany’s rail network.

“We are really pleased to be working with our industry partner Rock Rail and our friends at the Technische Universität Dresden on this relevant research assessing battery technology for trains. Rail decarbonisation is the big challenge facing the global rail industry and our two universities are at the forefront of research and development work in this field. As leaders in the field of railway traction power and energy systems, our research is hugely important in developing the future solutions that will deliver a decarbonised railway.”


European Co-operation

The project partners met at a technology workshop in March 2020 that was funded by the Free State of Saxony and organised by SET4FUTURE together with the UK’s Rail Alliance and BTS Rail Saxony. Both of these organisations have been working closely together over the past ten years as part of ERCI – the European Railway Clusters Initiative.

Dirk-Ulrich Krüger, BTS Cluster Manager and ERCI Spokesperson, said:

“I am very happy about the dynamic development of the European Railway Clusters Initiative, ERCI. Such research projects result from a regular and intensive international exchange and the mutual trust that has been growing over many years. Not least they are an important driver to fulfil our mission and strengthen the railway industry in Europe.”


BTS Rail Saxony is the largest railway cluster in central Germany. SET4FUTURE is one of four clusters that has been receiving funding from the Free State of Saxony since July 2018. It aims to improve the efficiency, profitability and attractiveness of rail transport through technological innovations.

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