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Great Western Railway Train on Tracks
Case Study

New Life for Old Rolling Stock

February 20, 2024

How GWR uses 3D printing to bring sustainability to the rails.

How do you accelerate the transition from fossil fuel-burning rail travel to a more earthfriendly electrified model? Great Western Railway (GWR) in the UK thinks it has found a way with the help of 3D printing.

GWR is a train operating company operating in the southwest UK. As a leading rail-industry innovator, the company is pioneering the country’s only fastcharging battery train by converting older rail cars destined for the scrap yard. Much of the UK rail network is not electrified with standard overhead power cables, leaving expensive and polluting diesel trains as the only current alternative. But with a creative turn toward transport sustainability, GWR takes old D78 stock London District Line trains and refurbishes them into modern batteryelectric units.

While electrified power lines remain the gold standard for electric rail transport, progress in expanding this infrastructure can be slow. “It’s very costly, and logistically, it’s very hard. And with those two parameters comes the inertia of getting it done,” says Julian Fletcher, Technical Development Manager at GWR. “So then you look at battery trains and say, ‘where do they fit in?’ Over recent years, battery technology has meant that they’re viable, and charging technology now means they’re a practical option for shorter branch lines,” Fletcher adds.

This means fast-charging battery-powered trains, such as the Greenford-to-West Ealing branch in North West London, will enable the UK to decarbonize commuter lines more rapidly. This is particularly important since battery-electric power offers a lower cost per mile than hydrogen or diesel alternatives, and air quality benefits too.

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