DSB ME 1503 – air pollution experiment

The Danish ME class General Motors diesels are nearing the end of an almost 40-year career.

The introduction from 2002 of a fleet of air-conditioned double-deck carriages – which have now replaced all of the single-deck, opening-window stock – gave rise to a problem.  Ultra-fine particles from the locos’ exhausts enter the carriages’ ventilation system and then circulate within the saloon.  This is caused wholly by the greater height of these vehicles than the ones they replaced.

ME1503 at Østerport, 20/03/17 (JW)

ME 1503 at Østerport, 20/03/17 (JW)

This issue had been identified early in the days of the double-deck carriages and numerous attempts have been made to find a solution.  All 33 locos remaining in traffic in 2010 were fitted with an “emissions kit” which aims to give cleaner internal combustion; this has been successful with an estimated 30% reduction of such air emissions reached.  The locos are also driven according to a in-cab “green screen” computer system which instructs drivers on how to drive, matching the train’s progress to its schedule whilst also considering both emissions and fuel consumption.  Intake filters were also fitted to the carriages.  It is claimed that these two approaches taken together more than halved the amount of harmful pollutants detected within the carriages.

Two variants of catalyst were also tested on the MEs, however neither were successful (one was found to actually increase nitrogen dioxide emissions), so were not rolled out across the fleet.

2015 study

The Institute of Public Health at Københavns Universitet (København University) conducted a study in 2015 that concluded that staff working within ME-powered carriages were exposed to a higher level of air pollution than if they were on traffic-clogged city streets, and were therefore at increased risk of lung cancer, bladder cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“The impact on DSB employees working in the train carriages is considerably higher than if they were exposed to a highly-travelled traffic jam. So, of course, that’s not good. However, it is not acutely hazardous and does not give immediate effects. But there is a good reason to accelerate the electrification of the network”.

Professor Steffen Loft, Head of the Institute of Public Health, Københavns Universitet, 2015 (quoted in a news article in July 2017).

ME 1503

Consequently, as of June 2016, a spoiler was experimentally fitted to locomotive ME 1503, effectively deflecting the exhaust up and over the carriages by forming a “roof” between loco and stock.

This makes it identifiable from the other class members as it is a unique fixture.  It is only fitted as one end as the MEs now exclusively work on the western end of their trains.


ME 1503, spoiler detail (JW)


ME 1503‘s spoiler has been found to be effective, but not as effective as had been intended (link).

Ultimately, any solution will be just a case of “damage limitation” as the MEs will be replaced from 2020 by a fleet of new Siemens Vectron electric locos.  The Vectrons had initially been intended to work on the Nivå – København – Køge – Næstved route, but the replacement and withdrawal of the MEs is seen as such a priority that they will instead be put to work on the Nordvestbanen (to Kalundborg) in order for that aim to be realised.

The section of this line from Roskilde is yet to be electrified, but the project to do so has been signed off as part of a 1.2 billion DKK scheme, and some work has commenced.

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