All Aboard Europe's First Biodiesel Express
Author: Nigel Hunt
The Virgin train, running on a blend of diesel and biodiesel, left London's Euston Station for Llandudno in north Wales with a send off from Brown and Virgin's British billionaire founder Richard Branson.
"This is the first time in Europe a monitored trial of biodiesel on passenger trains has taken place," Virgin CrossCountry Managing Director Chris Gibb said.
Branson, whose Virgin Group business spans music megastores, an airline, a rail service, drinks, hotels and leisure, has committed to spending all the profits from his airline and rail business to combat global warming by cutting carbon emissions.
He also plans next year to have a test flight for one of his passenger aircraft using a biofuel.
Finance Minister Gordon Brown, who is due to take over from British Prime Minister Tony Blair on June 27, said he wanted Britain to become a world leader in the development of environmentally-friendly fuels.
"I believe they will play a fundamental part in our efforts to reduce emissions and tackle climate change," Brown said.
Virgin Trains will initially only run one of its trains on a 20 percent biodiesel blend for a six-month trial but Branson said his whole fleet might eventually be converted to run on a biofuel blend, which would cut its carbon dioxide emissions by up to 14 percent.
"There is a possibility as the engines get changed we could go up to 100 percent biodiesel," Branson said.
The biofuel used by Virgin will be produced mainly using British rapeseed oil blended with US soyabean oil and palm oil from the Far East.
The pilot scheme has the backing of the Association of Train Operating Companies and Gibb said cooperation with other train operators was vital to ensure long-term success.
"There are some significant logistical issues. I think we can make this manageable if we work together," he said, noting Virgin Trains were refuelled at 17 different locations that were also used by other operators.
The locomotive in the pilot scheme will be limited to refuelling at one of two locations in central England.
Britain's trains currently run on red diesel, a fuel taxed at a discounted rate of 7.69 pence (US$0.15) per litre, while the biodiesel blend would attract a duty of 54.68 pence.
Legislation would be required to change the rate but Brown has agreed for the fuel to be taxed at the lower rate for the trial.
"Our indications from Gordon Brown are that he will address this problem," Branson said.
Britain offers tax incentives for motor fuels that contain biofuels in a bid to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global warming.
The fuel will be provided by Britain's largest biofuels supplier, Greenergy.
The firm's chief executive officer, Andrew Owens, told Reuters that Greenergy was also working with three other train companies to find biodiesel blends for their locomotives.
"They all have different types of engines," he said.