Hydrogen trains: bringing the success story to the UK

Source: RTM June/July 2018

Hydrogen-powered trains are already a reality in other rail networks in Europe. Now, working alongside Eversholt Rail, Alstom UK plans to bring these same benefits to Britain in light of the country’s decarbonisation and electrification agendas, writes Mike Muldoon, its head of business development.

Alstom has consistently pioneered innovation in the rail industry. For the industry to continue to thrive, we must always endeavour to deliver the latest technology for sustainable mobility solutions.

It is no surprise, then, that in the challenge set by government to decarbonise rail travel, Alstom is leading the charge by bringing hydrogen rail to the UK as a viable alternative to diesel or electrification schemes.

Decarbonising rail travel is essential for the next generation, and the potential for hydrogen trains is enormous. Nearly a third  of all trains in the UK run on diesel, but current levels of emissions are unsustainable and damaging to our environment and our health. Emissions are of concern at railway stations, and the RSSB is currently studying the concentration of nitrogen dioxide and particulates at London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley stations.

Fortunately, the government recognises the need to innovate and create sustainable alternatives to rail travel and the rail minister, Jo Johnson, deserves great credit for recently challenging the UK rail industry to decarbonise and eliminate diesel-only trains by 2040.

Alstom is already a world leader in sustainable mobility and our award-winning Coradia iLint, the only operational hydrogen train in the world, is due to enter regular service later this year in Lower Saxony in Germany. It uses fuel cells which produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen, and the only emission is water.

The Coradia iLint is a milestone development and, alongside mainline electrification, offers a viable means of decarbonising rail where wires may not be practical.

A budding partnership

We plan to replicate this success story for the UK. Last month, we announced our plans, working with Eversholt Rail, to convert Class 321 EMUs to hydrogen operation – upcycling this fleet to be one of Britain’s most advanced types of rolling stock.

I’m proud to say that our announcement was the first substantive industry response to the government’s challenge, starting the process of decarbonising our rail network, and will bring skilled jobs to our facility at Widnes, the most sophisticated centre for train modernisation in the UK.

The Class 321 trains that currently run on the Greater Anglia franchise will be converted to be powered by hydrogen. Multiple deployments are envisaged and would be feasible across the UK. The first trains could be ready to enter service as early as 2021-22.

The converted hydrogen trains will have the same or enhanced performance as typical regional DMUs designed to meet operator requirements. They will be quiet when in operation, benefitting both the passengers and neighbours of the routes they serve.

The conversion of these Class 321s is just the first step. There are numerous routes across the country where electrification might be inappropriate, and running trains on hydrogen is a clear solution to the need for low-emission, decarbonised transport. For example, the proposed route between Oxford and Cambridge is just one of many that could benefit from hydrogen technology.

The government recognises the need to decarbonise rail travel, and at Alstom, so do we. Luckily, we have the innovative drive and experienced professionals to lead the industry into the future of sustainable rail travel.


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