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Mainline testing of UK's first hydrogen train gets green light

20 June 2019

The UK’s first hydrogen train, HydroFLEX, will be tested on the mainline railway following a successful proof-of-concept.

Image courtesy of University of Birmingham

The mainline testing of HydroFLEX marks an important step in the development of a zero-carbon emission propulsion system that could help to decarbonise Britain’s railway. The HydroFLEX pilot involves the fitment of a hydrogen powerpack to an existing Class 319 train, which would eventually allow it to run on conventional electrified routes as well as independently. This results in a highly flexible train that can operate on different parts of Britain’s rail network.

Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, said: “Sustainability and innovation are integral to what we do here at Porterbrook, and so we are tremendously proud to have played a key role in designing and building the UK’s first hydrogen train. This is a first test, but we are excited about being in a position to provide HydroFLEX as a viable offering very soon. Britain’s railway has a key part to play in reducing transport emissions and we are committed to helping our customers play an important role in delivering this.” 

Helen Simpson, Head of Innovation and Technical Services at Porterbrook, said: “The Porterbrook team are delighted to support the testing of HydroFLEX on mainline railways. We have been very pleased with how the train has performed on the test track and are looking forward to getting it out on the national rail network. Delivering the UK’s first hydrogen train is a huge step for the rail industry and marks a milestone for green transport everywhere. Demonstrating how mainline approvals for hydrogen can be delivered is the next step forward and allows more people to see the benefits of hydrogen.”

Alex Burrows, Director at Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, commented: “This is a great success story for the UK Rail Industry, which shows our capability and commitment to helping the government meet decarbonisation targets. Key to this success is the close partnership between academia and industry which has enabled us to pool the expertise needed to rapidly progress this technology from concept to full-scale working demonstrator.

“This partnership between the University of Birmingham and Porterbrook has been a trailblazer for academia and industry accelerating ideas into practical application on the railway. We look forward to the next phase of this project which will take this technology onto the UK railway.”

Dr Stuart Hillmansen, Senior Lecturer, Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education noted: “Our prototype shows how hydrogen powered technology can be incorporated within existing trains, without needing to modify the drivers’ controls. It’s an exciting advance because it shows how this technology could be adopted into the mainline system to deliver emission-free public transport.”

Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling said: “It is fantastic to see government funding helping to drive this innovative project forward, as it progresses to the milestone of mainline testing.

“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.”

Many collaborators have been key to the success of HydroFLEX so far: Chrysalis Rail for installation, Denchi Group for traction batteries, Ballard Fuel Cell Systems for the fuel cell, Luxfer for hydrogen storage tanks, DG8design support, Derby Engineering Unit for panels and brackets, SNC Lavalin for design and hazard identifications, Aura for exterior livery design and DB Cargo Crewe for the recommissioning of the unit.

The HydroFLEX project has recently been awarded funding from Innovate UK through its First of a Kind competition to take the prototype forward towards mainline testing. The same funding competition has enabled for Porterbrook to pair up with Eminox to create a catalyst converter for diesel trains, extending the green credentials of the rail leasing company.


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