Irish Rail to scale up use of renewable fuel made from vegetable oil and fats

If trials are successful with rail maintenance machinery, company hopes to scale up to diesel locomotives

Iarnród Éireann is to trial a renewable fuel replacing diesel in its rail maintenance machinery, and if successful plans to scale up deployment of hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) in diesel locomotives.

It announced on Thursday it has commenced trialling with its mechanical maintenance contractor Rhomberg Sersa Ireland using the fuel, which is produced using vegetable oils and fats. It has the potential to be a direct alternative to traditional diesel currently used in many rail maintenance vehicles and existing diesel locomotives, it said.

Iarnród Éireann said this was a key milestone in its ambitious decarbonisation plan, “essential to building the sustainable transport network of the future and meeting the Government’s target of a 51 per cent reduction in carbon emissions for the transport sector by 2030″.

If the trials are successful, it will mean 90 per cent less carbon emissions on HVO-fuelled vehicles when compared to diesel, and “potentially saying farewell to the use of traditional diesel to power corporate vehicles and diesel locomotives, subject to wider successful trials”.


The trial started with fuelling three on-track ballast cleaning machines with a 75 per cent diesel-25 per cent HVO fuel mix and the machine operated normally without any performance issues.

The percentage of HVO is now being increased and performance continually appraised. Ultimately, the intention is that the machinery will be operated with 100 per cent HVO. Other maintenance vehicles will then be converted to HVO fuel.

The transition of the on-track ballast maintenance vehicles alone to HVO would result in emission savings of 148,500kg CO2 equivalent annually compared to continued use of diesel.

Iarnród Éireann is currently in discussions with fuel companies to undertake a rail HVO trial on some existing diesel locomotives, it confirmed. HVO is considered a good bridging or transitional fuel source while electrification of the network is progressed through the planning and construction phases.

The rail company has adopted a range of decarbonisation measures including a trebling of the electrified network under the Dart+ programme up to 2030 and extending this further, ultimately seeing electrification of some of the major national rail lines.

It will introduce new rolling stock as part of a 10-year framework agreement with rail manufacturer Alstom to supply up to 750 new rail carriages under the Dart, which will mean Iarnród Éireann has the ability to retire its older diesel fleet, subject to the relevant funding approvals and critical infrastructure upgrades being achieved.

A “B7 biofuel” blend has recently been rolled out for the existing diesel rail fleet, with further plans in progress for the use of B20 or higher, subject to successful trials, cost considerations and fuel availability.

Trials are under way to modify the existing Intercity fleet engines, including gearbox/transmission upgrades, hybrid components and battery packs.

Green hydrogen generated from renewables is also being considered as a fuel source, starting with converting two locomotives to hydrogen fuel for trial operations on the Tara Mines freight trains.

Iarnród Éireann is also reviewing its building stock to establish the potential for local renewable energy generation through the installation of solar panels.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times