UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. (Kyodo) East Japan Railway Co. will start running the world’s first hybrid train in summer 2007.

JR East developed the environmentally friendly train to use a lithium-ion battery combined with an improved diesel engine.

JR East also has plans to introduce a fuel battery, considered the ultimate form of clean energy, in the future, company officials said.

Hybrid cars, which pair gasoline engines and electric motors, are already on the market and low-pollution buses are also running in several parts of the country.

JR East will use the hybrid train on the nonelectrified Koumi Line between Obuchizawa Station in Obuchizawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, and Komoro Station in Komoro, Nagano Prefecture.

Since May 2003, the carrier has been testing a prototype of the hybrid in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, and Karasuyama, Tochigi Prefecture.

“We have confirmed (the train’s) practicality and energy-saving effects” in such difficult conditions as on steep grades and in the severe cold, JR East President Mutsutake Otsuka said.

Onboard the prototype train, Hiroshi Nomoto, a section chief at the JR East Research and Development Center, explained, “The motor runs only on the power from the lithium-ion battery when the train moves, so it is quiet.”

That battery, installed on the roof, is equal to the battery power in 3,000-4,000 mobile phones.

When the train gets up to 30 kph, a generator-equipped diesel engine under the floor begins to work, powering the motor and, at the same time, charging the lithium-ion battery. The battery can also store energy during braking action.

Emissions of particulate, including nitrogen oxide, from the improved diesel engine have been cut by about 60 percent, and fuel expenses — light oil consumption — have been improved by more than 10 percent using the lithium-ion battery.

The engine also shuts off automatically if it begins to idle.

Anticipating that fuel batteries will become popular in the future, Nomoto said, “The design has been made to allow for the power generator-equipped engine to be replaced with a fuel battery.”

That would allow the train to save even more energy.

There is also research under way to develop a hybrid streetcar.

Railway Technical Research Institute of Tokyo hopes to complete its light-rail transit project by the end of March 2008.

Power collectors will be installed at LRT stops, so when a streetcar stops, it will be charged via its pantograph.

“We will shortly see streetcars running with no overhead wires,” said Toshihiro Hamamoto, chief in the JR East business planning section.

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