Railways that were once used to move coal to generate electricity could be used to carry the electricity itself –  if a study finds that high-voltage power cables can be safely run along the tracks.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

HS1, the high-speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel, has commissioned a study to examine the options for distributing electricity along the tracks. HS1 says this could be done using a new cable within the existing train line boundary to help power homes and industries in the area and support National Grid capacity.

Although running cables alongside railways to carry telecoms has been around for several decades, it’s never been tried as a way of distributing electricity. With a large upgrade of the National Grid needed to support the transition to renewable power generation, there could be a market for the railways to lay cables and sell capacity on them to the energy companies.

If the study shows that it can be done safely without affecting the trains and signalling systems.

Wendy Spinks, Commercial Director at HS1, said: “We are very excited to work with the University of Kent to explore the opportunities to diversify the use of the HS1 infrastructure, boost clean energy capacity and growth in the regional economy.

“We have a fantastic asset in our 109 km rail line running through Kent, and we look forward to working with key stakeholders to understand how we can help support energy resilience in Kent.”

The study will last six months and involve interviews and workshops with representatives from the National Grid, DfT, DESNZ, NFU, Kent County Council, borough councils, and several energy companies and institutes. The University of Kent is also building a simulation model to scope future opportunities and to explore whether this solution could be replicated across the UK and worldwide.

If it works, one option would be for cables to be laid within protective concrete trenches alongside the railway  – similar to how they were buried along the Regents Canal. Depending on the amount of power to be transmitted, there may be a requirement for cooling the cables to be added as well, as sealed boxes would lack the ventilation needed to deal with the heat that high-voltage electricity cables generate.

Who knows, maybe the heat from cables could be optimised to defrost railway points on cold days.

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3 comments
  1. Richard King says:

    This potentially very good news as an alternative to the new unsightly and environmentally damaging pylons that are being planned. Many other European countries bury their power cables, but here they always go for the cheapest option.

  2. Fire Power says:

    I wonder why they think it is a new idea. In the 1930s the Eltham to Depford 132 kV circuits ran along the railway. In 1960, they wanted to connect Belevedere Power Station in Kent, to the national grid. A significant part of the routes to Sydenham and Depford, went along troughs along side the railways. Belevedere has gone but some cable routes have been diverted into Eltham. These are just a couple of routes I personally know about. There must be hundreds of other routes.

    • Richard Ash says:

      Absolutely. Distribution cables (132kV and below) are run along rail corridors in many, many places.

      I think transmission cables (275kV and up, or HVDC) are not presently run inside the railway fence, with the exception of the Channel Tunnel, where there is an HVDC transmission link through the tunnels.

      I presume this is what the press release author was getting at, but getting wrong.

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