A hybrid train is a locomotive, railcar or train that uses an onboard rechargeable energy storage system (RESS), placed between the power source (often a diesel engine prime mover) and the traction transmission system connected to the wheels. Since most diesel locomotives are diesel-electric, they have all the components of a series hybrid transmission except the storage battery, making this a relatively simple prospect.
Surplus energy from the power source, or energy derived from regenerative braking, charges the storage system. During acceleration, stored energy is directed to the transmission system, boosting that available from the main power source. In existing designs, the storage system can be electric traction batteries, or a flywheel. The energy source is diesel, liquefied petroleum gas, or hydrogen (for fuel cells) and transmission is direct mechanical, electric or .
Diesel electric locomotives have high potential for energy savings when using dynamic braking, which use the traction motors as generators to stop the train. Without a way to recover and store the braking energy, these engines currently have no option other than to transfer it into the atmosphere as heat, using large electric heating elements and high velocity cooling fans.
Using a storage system means that a non-fully electric train can use dynamic braking, and even shut down the main power source whilst idling or stationary. Reducing energy consumption provides environmental benefits and economic savings. A smaller scale version of the concept is found in hybrid automobiles, such as the Toyota Prius.
The hybrid train was conceived, under a slightly different name, mixed drive train, at the turn of twentieth century. Pieper system was applied to Belgian (Vicinal tramway) and French (Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de Grande Banlieue) railcars as soon as 1911. Thomas transmission, which is similar in design to the mechanical part of the Hybrid Synergy Drive, was used in the United Kingdom and tested in New-Zealand in a NZR RM class railcar.
In 1986, Czechoslovak locomotive manufacturer ČKD built a prototype hybrid shunting locomotive termed the DA 600. The locomotive was powered a 190-kW diesel engine and four electric motors, with a maximum overall power 360 kW powered from batteries. The batteries were recharged while the diesel engine was running, by regenerative braking or from external electric power.
After tests on the Railway test circuit Velim and some minor tweaks, the locomotive was lent to the Olomouc train depot and successfully operated there for ten years. Czechoslovak socialist economics failed to start mass production, mainly because of a lack of proper battery manufacturing capacities.
The design had two 65-kilowatt fuel cells and six hydrogen tanks under the floor, with a lithium-ion battery on the roof. The test train was capable of 100 kilometres per hour (60 mph) with a range of 50–100 kilometres (30–60 mi) between hydrogen refills. Research was underway into the use of regenerative braking to recharge the test train's batteries, intending to increase the range further. JR had stated that it hoped to introduce the train into scheduled local service during the summer of 2007. Technology tested on this train was incorporated in the KiHa E200 diesel/battery railcars entering service in 2007.
The first JR Freight Class HD300 shunting locomotive was delivered from Toshiba on 30 March 2010. The new locomotive uses lithium ion batteries, and is designed to reduce exhaust emissions by at least 30% to 40% and noise levels by at least 10 dB compared with existing Class DE10 diesel locomotives.
Sinara transport machines is developing the TEM9H, a hybrid version of its TEM9 series diesel shunting locomotives, at its Lyudinovsky Locomotive Plant. This is a 1,200 horsepower, four-axle, locomotive with lithium-ion batteries, supercondensers and AC motors. It is planned to be in production early in 2013.
Since 1936, a fleet of London Underground battery-electric locomotives have been used for engineering work on the Tube system. These locomotives operate from either third rail, or their battery bank and can be recharged on the move.
A Sunday-service operated on the Stourbridge Town Branch Line for a period of two years, using a flywheel-based energy storage system built by Parry People Movers. In 2008, a pair of British Rail Class 139 railcars were ordered to provide full service on the branch line from 2009 onwards.
During 2007, a modified Class 43 power car ran on the Great Central Railway and then as part of the Network Rail New Measurement Train (a 200-kilometre per hour track-recording train). The Hitachi developed system used a battery-assisted diesel-electric drive system; the hope being that it would demonstrate a cut in emissions by up to 50 percent and a reduction in fuel consumption costs of 20 percent. The modified locomotive, named Hayabusa, was semi-permanently attached to a converted passenger carriage containing the battery bank during the testing period.
In February 2009, it was announced that Hitachi, as preferred contractors for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) would deploy hybrid technology on the self-powered variants of the IEP trains. These trains would be capable of 200 kilometres per hour. Some hybrid-trains would also be bi-modal, allowing power to be taken from overhead lines.
In 2004, Railpower Technologies, a Canadian company, began running pilots in the United States with the Green Goat shunting locomotives. The trials led to orders by the Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific Railways, starting in early 2005.
These diesel-electric hybrid trains are expected to cut emissions by up to 90 percent and to decrease fuel consumption by up to sixty percent, when compared to conventional diesel-powered locomotives. The "Green Goat" locomotives were intended to be used in marshalling yards.
General Electric (GE) put[when?] their hybrid locomotive on display at Los Angeles Union Station. The locomotive used regenerative braking and a bank of high-capacity batteries that GE was constructing to achieve its fuel savings and to achieve higher emissions standards than previous ordinary diesel locomotives. It was expected to join GE's current line of Evolution Series locomotives as of May 2007[update].
The city of Savannah, Georgia tested the operation of a W class Melbourne tram in service as a biodiesel fuelled hybrid with on board battery storage in late 2008. Regular service along the River Street Streetcar started on February 11, 2009.