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HydroFLEX hydrogen train

UK’s first hydrogen train begins trial on main rail network

Image credit: Porterbrook

The first hydrogen train in the UK has started its first journey on mainline rail tracks in Warwickshire, while the Department for Transport announces a ‘Hydrogen for Transport Programme’ and a ‘Hydrogen Transport Hub’.

Unlike traditional diesel trains, hydrogen-powered trains do not emit dangerous pollutants. Their fuel cells use hydrogen and water to produce electricity, in addition to water and heat.

The Department for Transport said that the technology would be available by 2023 to retrofit current in-service trains to hydrogen.

“As we continue on our road to a green recovery, we know that to really harness the power of transport to improve our country – and to set a global gold standard – we must truly embed change,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “That’s why I’m delighted that through our plans to build back better we are embracing the power of hydrogen and the more sustainable, greener forms of transport it will bring.”

The hydrogen train, Hydroflex, was developed over nearly two years by rolling-stock company Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham.

Porterbrook will continue working with academics to develop a hydrogen and battery powered module that can be fitted underneath the train, freeing up more space for passengers, and today announced plans to start putting the trains into production in response to customer demand.

“The Hydroflex project is a great example of how world-class R&D, together with the right industry partnerships, can deliver decarbonisation technologies that are both innovative and practical,” said Professor Stephen Jarvis, head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham.”

Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, commented: “I’m delighted to be able to announce our intention to start producing Hydroflex trains, creating the world’s first electric and hydrogen powered bi-mode rolling stock, as well as generating significant opportunities for the UK supply chain.”

Several hydrogen train projects are under way in Britain, and plans for a mainline trial were announced last April.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT trade union, called for future hydrogen trains to be manufactured in the UK, in order to aid the post-pandemic economic recovery: “Expanding the UK’s manufacturing base for hydrogen trains could help support the decarbonisation of the transport sector and our economic recovery from Covid-19. It is absolutely vital that all the manufacturing is carried out domestically,” he said.

The appearance of a hydrogen train on mainline rail tracks coincided with the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ unveiling of a £23m 'Hydrogen for Transport Programme', which will include £6.3m funding for new hydrogen refuse trucks and hydrogen refuelling stations in Glasgow.

Shapps also announced plans for a 'Hydrogen Transport Hub' in Tees Valley, which will bring together academics, industry, and government to accelerate the UK’s plans to adopt hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Although details are scant at present, the Department for Transport has said that a 'masterplan' for the hub will be published in January 2021. This will be produced by Mott Macdonald and will explore how hydrogen could power buses, heavy goods vehicles, marine transport, and aircraft, as well as rail.

Porterbrook provided a list of other industry partners that have supported the HydroFLEX programme, including: Chrysalis Rail for installation work; Denchi Group for traction batteries; Ballard Power Systems for the fuel cell; Luxfer for hydrogen storage tanks; Ricardo Rail for approvals support; Fuel Cell Systems for hydrogen refuelling equipment; Jeff Vehicles for engineering support on fuel cell control; SNC Lavalin for development of a new maintenance regime; DEU for supply of integration steelwork and miscellaneous installation materials; Aura for exterior livery design; and dg8 for design and engineering support.

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