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Alstom to roll out hydrogen trains in UK

British Rail Class 321 GammaRadiator - Own work, CC BY 4.0

Alstom is working with Eversholt Rail to retrofit Class 321 models with hydrogen powertrains and storage tanks to enable use on non-electrified routes

While the penetration of hydrogen passenger FCEVs is sluggish, progress on hydrogen rail transport seems to be picking up steam.

Earlier this month Alstom confirmed that it plans to bring its hydrogen-powered trains to the UK, in response to the government’s plans to phase out diesel rolling stock by 2040.

Alstom says it is now working with Eversholt Rail ‎on plans to convert Class 321 electric trains to hydrogen operation. The two will work to “upcycle” – read: retrofit –hydrogen tanks and fuel cells to existing trains to turn them “into Britain’s most advanced rolling stock.”

While we’re not sure about the last claim, Alstom has made some progress with the technology. Most prominently the hydrogen-powered version of the Coradia iLint is now undergoing testing on the Buxtehude–Bremervörde–Bremerhaven–Cuxhaven line in Germany.

First unveiled in 2016, the model is based on the company’s existing iLint line, but lays claim to being the first low-floor passenger train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The powertrain combines a fuel cell stack and batteries, and is particularly aimed at lowering emissions on non-electrified networks.

“The potential for hydrogen trains is enormous. The Government has set a clear objective of removing diesel rolling stock by 2040 and this requires a bold and innovative response from the industry. I am very proud that, working with Eversholt Rail, we are able to take the lead in that respect,” commented Alstom UK & Ireland managing director Nick Crossfield.

“We think the potential long-term application of hydrogen in the UK is very significant. Less than fifty per cent of the UK network is electrified, and much that isn’t electrified is unlikely ever to be so. Starting with this conversion, we think hydrogen could offer the right zero carbon solution for many parts of the network.”

According to the company, almost one-third of all the UK’s trains are diesel-powered, and thus will need to be replaced or refurbished to hit the Government’s target of no diesel rail vehicles by 2040.

Given the recent performance of UK rail networks, ElecTrans suspects most will be retrofitted or “upcycled” rather than replaced with new models – except perhaps in London  – meaning Alstom’s work converting existing models may put it in a strong position.

However, much more work will need to be done in building out the hydrogen production and storage infrastructure before the rail network is in a viable position to roll out FC trains more widely.

 

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