Japan’s Hybrid Train Does Its Tiny Part to Fight Global Warming With Diesel, Battery Power
July 29 SAKU, Japan (AP) — Winding past rice paddies and lazily blowing its whistle along bubbly creeks, this two-car train in rural northern Japan is the latest entrant in the battle against global warming.
Following its runaway success with hybrid cars, Japan is bringing the world hybrid trains. Regular passenger runs are set to begin Tuesday on a short mountain route, the first time a diesel-electric hybrid train will be put into commercial service.
“It’s part of our efforts to be green,” Yasuaki Kikuchi, a spokesman for East Japan Railway Co., said Friday, on board an exclusive trial run for The Associated Press.
Compared to cars, trains are a relatively small contributor to global warming. But the popularity of hybrid cars, such as Toyota Motor Corp.’s best-selling Prius, is helping to boost interest in hybrid trains. Railway companies around the world, including Amtrak in the United States and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn AG, are working on or investigating the technology.
Cost remains a major hurdle. The Kiha E200 train, which boosts fuel efficiency by 20 percent and reduces emissions by up to 60 percent, cost nearly $1.7 million, twice as much as a standard train, Kikuchi said.
It has a diesel engine, two electric motors under each car and lithium ion batteries on the roof.
With the word “hybrid” splashed in silver across its side, the otherwise normal-looking train rolls quietly out of Nakagomi station, powered by its four electric motors.
The diesel engine only kicks in with a rumble when needed to climb a hill or if the batteries run low.
The batteries are recharged when the train slows down. After the power is switched off, the motors continue to turn for a while, and that energy — wasted in a non-hybrid train — is used to recharge the batteries.