A historic railway locomotive roundhouse, with a crowd of people walking between two steam locomotives and approaching an electric shunting locomotive rebuilt from a class 08 diesel

British pioneers spark new battery-powered life into centurion shunter

Walking into the future. Guests approach the prototype 08e at the launch event in Barrow Hill Roundhouse near Chesterfield in England Image by Simon Walton

Don’t try to tell Positive Traction that there is no future in the most humble of locomotives still at work today. Quite the opposite. The British technological achievers see a long life ahead for the class 08 shunter, and it’s thanks to their radical makeover. What was born a diesel pioneer in the age of steam, is about to become a battery-electric pioneer in the age of digital streaming.

Positive Traction is the suitable name of an English company putting its renewable energy expertise into rail industry innovation. The East Midlands-based innovators are on the cusp of releasing a re-engineered shunter design, radically reworked from its 1930s beginnings. Their efforts are helping to meet the challenge of eliminating carbon emissions, especially in the difficult railway environment of industrial layouts and switching yards which are often without overhead lines.

It’s a shunter, but not as we know it

There have been many famous and successful motive power designs originated and developed in the UK, but the most successful of all is hardly the most famous. The ubiquitous six-wheel coupled diesel shunter has been such a fixture on the railway that it has been built in almost automotive quantities, and exported around the world. The hardly pretty “class 08” design is almost a century old, and still it works, despite its original task having almost completely disappeared from modern railway operations.

Positive Traction has a new solution to an old problem – or perhaps that’s an old solution to a new problem – the worldwide race to reduce emissions. They have taken a familiar design of shunter (or switcher) and turned the low-speed low-impact locomotive into a battery-powered zero-emissions, all purpose workhorse. The company launched their innovation to an enthusiastic industry this week, at a gala event at the historic Barrow Hill Roundhouse – a unique combination of heritage museum and engineering facility. The project already has enquiries from potential customers in the UK.

The green heat of battery technology

The prototype, which has been designated class 08e, carries the serial number 08308, identifying the donor locomotive as a 1954 example of the class, from which more than 1000 worked in the sidings, yards and short lines of the UK. Born in Crewe, reborn in Chesterfield. The basic design upon which 08308 is based has been around since 1934. Now it has a makeover that will take it to 2034 and beyond. This example dates back to 1954 and was last in service over a decade ago, marshalling the coaches of the Caledonian Sleeper at Inverness.

Driver (Simon Walton) looks out from the cab of 08e back down the tracks
Electrifying experience. RailTech journalist Simon Walton gets to take the controls of 08e prototype (Image Shan Liu)

A battery of technological innovations are behind the project. A control system, trademarked PT Powertrain, manages the locomotive’s control, and looks after the PT Powerpods. There are up to six of the Powerpods, each delivering 88kWh in near silence. The battery unit and traction motors are considerably smaller than the original diesel unit. Although the cab is comfortingly familiar, the visibility afforded over the power unit is refreshingly unobstructed. The unbridled appreciation of the launch crowd strongly suggests that the 08e concept is a hit with its intended audience. Positive Traction will doubtless be encouraged, and eager to tell everyone about their near centurion 08e.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

1 comment op “British pioneers spark new battery-powered life into centurion shunter”

tristram mitchell|20.10.23|23:11

Sorry to correct you but the shunting locomotive is a pilot the man who works alongside the pilot and not on it is the shunter!!

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