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Hydrogen Trains Could Run In UK By 2021

Hydrogen trains could carry passengers on routes around the UK as early as 2021 after two pioneers in the field confirmed a new project.

Alstom and Eversholt Rail aim to create a “clean train for the modern age” by converting Class 321 trains to run using hydrogen technology. The companies did not release technical details for the planned vehicles – codenamed Breeze – in today’s announcement, but concept images appeared to show roof-mounted fuel cells similar to those used on the Coradia iLint, hydrogen trains introduced by Alstom in Germany last year.

  Hydrogen fuel cells use catalysts to combine the gas with oxygen, producing electricity and water as a waste product. The iLint, for example, has a 200kW fuel cell and a 225kW lithium-ion battery to store surplus energy and recover braking energy.

The Class 321s will be converted at Alstom’s facility in Widnes near Liverpool, reportedly creating “high quality” engineering jobs. The resulting vehicles will be the first hydrogen trains that fit within the standard UK loading gauge, and will have more space for passengers than the trains they are intended to replace. The partnered companies called the project “a cost-effective solution to introduce clean, green hydrogen trains to the network.”

The announcement follows the government’s intention to remove all diesel-only trains from the rail network by 2040. It is investing £23m through the Industrial Strategy in an attempt to make the UK a world leader in hydrogen transport.

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“Hydrogen train technology is an exciting innovation which has the potential to transform our railway, making journeys cleaner and greener by cutting carbon dioxide emissions even further,” said rail minister Andrew Jones today.

“We are working with industry to establish how hydrogen trains can play an important part in the future, delivering better services on rural and inter-urban routes.”

Hydrogen “offers great potential for less busy routes but it is unlikely ever to be an appropriate solution for high-speed, intensive commuter or freight services,” said the IMechE’s Scottish rail division secretary and Rail Engineer editor David Shirres in a recent feature for Professional Engineering. Issues include potentially low energy conversion efficiency compared to electric trains, lower energy density than diesel and ensuring environmentally-friendly fuel production.

The Breeze “will be a clean, green new train for the UK with a stylish, modern look,” said Nick Crossfield, managing director of Alstom UK & Ireland. “The railways need to decarbonise and the government has rightly set out a goal to eliminate diesel rolling stock by 2040. Hydrogen trains offer an ideal solution for routes which are unlikely to benefit from electrification, and our innovative engineering solution means they can now fit within the UK loading gauge and can quickly be ready to roll on Britain’s railways.”

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Alstom and Eversholt are working with “industry stakeholders” to develop business cases and evaluate plans for fleets of hydrogen trains and the associated fuelling infrastructure.

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