HydroFLEX: The UK’s First Hydrogen Train

The diesel-free train is part of the UK's efforts to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

24.06.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Rail Business Daily
Photo by Rail Business Daily

A train that runs on hydrogen—not diesel—is getting ready to revolutionise the UK rail industry.

HydroFLEX, the UK’s first hydrogen train, is a step towards an eco-friendly transport system for the entire country. As a way to fulfill the country’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the train design was developed out of a partnership between Porterbrook, a rail leasing and asset management support provider, and the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE).

HydroFLEX only emits water—a key to de-carbonising the British rail transport system. Hydrogen trains are also quieter than diesel trains and cheaper to operate over the long term, although the initial purchase costs are higher.

Mark Lawday, head of European sales for Luxfer—the company behind the train’s hydrogen storage tanks—believes that hydrogen offers a “real alternative” to transport systems that rely on diesel and electricity, as reported by Tech Startups.

The world’s first hydrogen trains were created in Germany in 2018, but their design is not compatible with the UK system. As such, the HydroFLEX prototype uses a hydrogen powerpack on an existing Class 319 train, resulting in a flexible train design that can function on rail networks all throughout the UK.

“Our prototype shows how hydrogen-powered technology can be incorporated within existing trains, without needing to modify the drivers’ controls,” explained Stuart Hillmansen, senior lecturer at the BCRRE. “It’s an exciting advance because it shows how this technology could be adopted into the mainline system to deliver emission-free public transport.”

While Germany is currently the only country that currently uses hydrogen trains to carry passengers, France also hopes to offer hydrogen-fueled, passenger-carrying transport services by 2022. Denmark has also strongly embraced hydrogen vehicles, as the country was the first in the world to receive a series of FCEVs (fuel cell electric vehicles) from Hyundai—vehicles that use compressed hydrogen gas as fuel to generate electric power.

“It is fantastic to see government funding helping to drive this innovative project forward, as it progresses to the milestone of mainline testing,” said UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. “Our First of a Kind investment has consistently produced truly ambitious projects developed for the benefit of passengers and freight customers. We are absolutely committed to driving forward a greener, cleaner and more efficient rail network, using new technology to create modern, low-emission trains which can handle a growing number of journeys.”

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