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Railway electric

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Railway electric traction describes

the various types of locomotive and
multiple units that are used on
electrification systems around the

Railway electrification as a means of
traction emerged at the end of the
nineteenth century, although
experiments in electric rail have been
traced back to the mid-nineteenth
century.[1] Thomas Davenport, in
Brandon, Vermont, erected a circular
model railroad on which ran battery-
powered locomotives (or locomotives
running on battery-powered rails) in
1834.[1] Robert Davidson, of Aberdeen,
Scotland, created an electric
locomotive in 1839 and ran it on the
Edinburgh-Glasgow railway at 4 miles
per hour.[1] The earliest electric
locomotives tended to be battery-
powered.[1] In 1880, Thomas Edison
built a small electrical railway, using a
dynamo as the motor and the rails as
the current-carrying medium. The
electric current flowed through the
metal rim of otherwise wooden
wheels, being picked up via contact

Electrical traction offered several

benefits over the then predominant
steam traction, particularly in respect
of its quick acceleration (ideal for
urban (metro) and suburban
(commuter) services) and power
(ideal for heavy freight trains through
mountainous/hilly sections). A
plethora of systems emerged in the
first twenty years of the twentieth

Unit types
DC traction units

Direct current (DC) traction units use

direct current drawn from either a
conductor rail or an overhead line. AC
voltage is converted into dc voltage
by using rectifier.

AC traction units
All alternating current (AC) Traction
units draw alternating current from an
overhead line.

Multi-system units

Because of the variety of railway

electrification systems, which can
vary even within a country, trains
often have to pass from one system
to another. One way to accomplish
this is by changing locomotives at the
switching stations. These stations
have overhead wires that can be
switched from one voltage to another
and so the train arrives with one
locomotive and then departs with
another. The switching stations have
very sophisticated components and
they are very expensive.

A less expensive switching station

may have different electrification
systems at both exits with no
switchable wires. Instead the voltage
on the wires changes across a small
gap in them near the middle of the
station. Electric locomotives coast
into the station with their pantographs
down and halt under a wire of the
wrong voltage. A diesel shunter can
then return the locomotive to the right
side of the station. Both approaches
are inconvenient and time-consuming,
taking about ten minutes.

Another way is to use multi-system

motive power that can operate under
several different voltages and current
types. In Europe, two-, three and four-
system locomotives for cross frontier
freight traffic are becoming a
common sight (1.5 kV DC, 3 kV DC,
15 kV 16.7 Hz AC, 25 kV, 50 Hz AC).[2]
Locomotives and multiple units so
equipped can, depending on line
configuration and operation rules,
pass from one electrification system
to another without a stop, coasting for
a short distance for the change over,
past the dead section between the
different voltages.

Eurostar trains through the Channel

Tunnel are multisystem; a significant
part of the route near London is on
southern England's 750 V DC third rail
system, the route into Brussels is
3,000 V DC overhead, while the rest of
the route is 25 kV 50 Hz overhead.
The need for these trains to use third
rail into London Waterloo station
ended upon completion of High Speed
1 line in 2007. Southern England uses
some overhead/third rail dual-system
locomotives, such as the class 92 for
Channel Tunnel, and multiple units,
e.g. the Class 319 on Thameslink
services, to allow through running
between 750 V DC third rail south of
London and 25 kV AC overhead north
and east of London.

Electro-diesel locomotives which can

operate as an electric locomotive on
electrified lines but have an on-board
diesel engine for non-electrified
sections or sidings have been used in
several countries; examples are the
British Class 73 from the 1960s and
the last mile concept from around
2011, where an electric freight
locomotive can work sidings under
Diesel power (TRAX dual mode).

Battery electric rail

A few battery electric railcars and
locomotives were used in the
twentieth century, but generally the
use of battery power was not practical
except in underground mining
systems. See Accumulator car and
Battery locomotive.
High-speed rail
Many high-speed rail systems use
electric trains, like the Shinkansen and
the TGV.

See also
High-speed rail
Maglev train

1. J Halpin
2. "Traxx locomotive family meets
European needs" . Railway Gazette
International. 2008-01-07. Retrieved
2011-01-01. Traxx MS (multi-system)
for operation on both AC (15 and 25
kV) and DC (15 and 3 kV) networks

External links
Railway Technical Web Page -
including pages about electric
Short account of electric traction
history up to the 1880s, with
emphasis on Thomas Edison's

Retrieved from

Last edited 12 days ago by Raff

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