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Railway electrification

Conversion of railways to use electricity for propulsion / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Railway electrification is the use of electric power for the propulsion of rail transport. Electric railways use either electric locomotives (hauling passengers or freight in separate cars), electric multiple units (passenger cars with their own motors) or both. Electricity is typically generated in large and relatively efficient generating stations, transmitted to the railway network and distributed to the trains. Some electric railways have their own dedicated generating stations and transmission lines, but most purchase power from an electric utility. The railway usually provides its own distribution lines, switches, and transformers.

The Mantes-la-Jolie–Cherbourg railway in France connects Grand Paris and Normandy, and is electrified using overhead lines at 25 kV AC 50 Hz
The South Eastern Main Line in England connects the London metropolitan area with the Strait of Dover, and is electrified using third rail at 750 V DC

Power is supplied to moving trains with a (nearly) continuous conductor running along the track that usually takes one of two forms: an overhead line, suspended from poles or towers along the track or from structure or tunnel ceilings, or a third rail mounted at track level and contacted by a sliding "pickup shoe". Both overhead wire and third-rail systems usually use the running rails as the return conductor, but some systems use a separate fourth rail for this purpose.

In comparison to the principal alternative, the diesel engine, electric railways offer substantially better energy efficiency, lower emissions, and lower operating costs. Electric locomotives are also usually quieter, more powerful, and more responsive and reliable than diesel. They have no local emissions, an important advantage in tunnels and urban areas. Some electric traction systems provide regenerative braking that turns the train's kinetic energy back into electricity and returns it to the supply system to be used by other trains or the general utility grid. While diesel locomotives burn petroleum products, electricity can be generated from diverse sources, including renewable energy.[1] Historically concerns of resource independence have played a role in the decision to electrify railway lines. The landlocked Swiss confederation which almost completely lacks oil or coal deposits but has plentiful hydropower electrified its network in part in reaction to supply issues during both World Wars.[2][3]

Disadvantages of electric traction include: high capital costs that may be uneconomic on lightly trafficked routes, a relative lack of flexibility (since electric trains need third rails or overhead wires), and a vulnerability to power interruptions.[1] Electro-diesel locomotives and electro-diesel multiple units mitigate these problems somewhat as they are capable of running on diesel power during an outage or on non-electrified routes.

Different regions may use different supply voltages and frequencies, complicating through service and requiring greater complexity of locomotive power. There used to be a historical concern for double-stack rail transport regarding clearances with overhead lines[1] but it is no longer universally true as of 2022, with both Indian Railways[4] and China Railway[5][6][7] regularly operating electric double-stack cargo trains under overhead lines.

Railway electrification has constantly increased in the past decades, and as of 2022, electrified tracks account for nearly one-third of total tracks globally.[8][9]