Class 230 battery multiple-unit (Photo GWR)

UK: Great Western Railway is testing a Class 230 battery multiple-unit on the national network between Long Marston, Evesham, Honeybourne and Moreton-in-Marsh, ahead of trials of the train and FastCharge technology on the Greenford branch in west London.

In February 2022 GWR signed an agreement with Vivarail to trial fast battery charging technology which it hopes could enable battery-only trains to replace diesel multiple-units on branch lines.

After Vivarail entered administration in December 2022, GWR acquired the intellectual property, rolling stock and technology associated with FastCharge. The deal was designed to secure the Greenford trial, and did not include assets relating to Vivarail’s London Northwestern, Island Line or Transport for Wales projects.

More than 1 500 h of testing has now been completed within the Long Marston Rail Innovation Centre. Charging rails and lineside battery banks have been installed at West Ealing in preparation for the start of non-passenger trials alongside scheduled passenger services on the 4 km non-electrified Greenford branch.


The FastCharge equipment is designed to be installed between the running rails in hours, with minimal disruption to services. The short charge rails are fed by two track-side battery banks which are continuously trickle-charged from the grid with a 63 A connection ‘akin to a domestic supply’.

When the train comes to a stand, there is an automatic ‘electronic handshake’ with the charger, and the conductor rails are then energised for charging through the train’s retractable shoegear. When the driver initiates the departure sequence, the rails are de-energised before the train moves.

The system can deliver up to 2 MW, and will charge the train for 3½ min before a journey on the Greenford branch.

Wider plans

GWR hopes the technology could one day see battery-powered trains in operation across more than 80 branch lines totalling more than 3 000 km.

‘We are leading the way to help the Department for Transport and Network Rail understand what is required to roll out this technology’, said Engineering Director Dr Simon Green. FastCharge offers ’a combination of battery capability and charging technology that enables a branch line train to operate to the same timetable as a diesel unit, and yet still charge safely and with minimal impact on the local grid power supply’.

GWR has carried out simulations of other Thames Valley branch lines to explore how the technology could be used, potentially reducing the operator’s emissions by over 1 700 tonnes of CO2e per year.

Green said ’each branch line will vary, but this is an incredibly exciting innovation and I’m proud that GWR is at the forefront of the railway’s commitment to phase out diesel-only traction by 2040’.