The UK’s first hydrogen-powered train has run on the main line. The successful run by HydroFLEX, which has been supported with a £750,000 grant from the Department for Transport, follows almost two years’ development work and more than £1 million of investment by both the University of Birmingham and Porterbrook.
Unlike diesel trains, hydrogen-powered trains do not emit harmful gases, instead using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat. The ground-breaking technology behind the trains will also be available by 2023 to retrofit current in-service trains to hydrogen helping decarbonise the rail network and make rail journeys greener and more efficient.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps visited rail experts from the University of Birmingham’s Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) onsite at Long Marston in Warwickshire, to see first-hand HydroFLEX on the mainline.
He also took the opportunity to speak of the government’s ambitions for hydrogen as a fuel for the future and its ambition to develop a Hydrogen Transport Hub in the Tees Valley.
He said: “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.
“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.”
Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, said: “Porterbrook is committed to innovation and the delivery of a carbon neutral and sustainable railway.
“Today’s mainline testing of HydroFLEX achieves another important milestone on this journey.
“I’m also 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.”
Professor Stephen Jarvis, head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham, said: “BCRRE is setting the pace for rail innovation both in the UK and globally. 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.
“Successful mainline testing is a major milestone for HydroFLEX and is a clear demonstration of the important role hydrogen has to play in the UK’s rail industry. Through BCRRE and Porterbrook, we are looking forward to delivering this technology into the UK transport market, ensuring a cleaner future for our railways.”
The next stages of HydroFLEX are already well underway, with the University of Birmingham developing a hydrogen and battery powered module that can be fitted underneath the train, allowing more space for passengers in the train’s carriage.
David Clarke, technical director at the Railway Industry Association, said: “It is welcome news that the UK is undertaking mainline testing of a hydrogen train and announcing a Hydrogen Transport Hub in the Tees Valley.
“The introduction of fleets of low carbon, self-powered trains, alongside a rolling programme of electrification, can help ensure rail leads the country’s decarbonisation revolution, generating jobs and investment in the process.
“As we look to generate an economic recovery, clean rail technologies can help spur economic growth across the UK, whilst also helping our rail industry to develop a competitive advantage from which it could export more overseas too.”