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Hydrogen trains to run on UK rails for the first time


Alstom's Coradia iLint hydrogen train. The French company will convert trains to hydrogen power (Credit: Alstom)
Alstom's Coradia iLint hydrogen train. The French company will convert trains to hydrogen power (Credit: Alstom)

Steam and condensed water could replace noxious fumes along train routes and at busy terminals, after a company announced plans for hydrogen trains in the UK.

French multinational Alstom will convert Eversholt Rail’s Class 321 trains to hydrogen operation, fitting hydrogen tanks and fuel cells to “upcycle” the vehicles.

Although the 321s are electric, Alstom said its work could lead the way in replacing diesel trains with hydrogen alternatives, calling it “the first substantive industry response to the government's challenge to remove diesel rolling stock by 2040”.

Fuel cells strip hydrogen atoms of their negatively-charged electrons, which then travel through an electrical circuit to provide power. The hydrogen combines with oxygen, forming water molecules.

“The potential for hydrogen trains is enormous,” said Nick Crossfield, managing director of Alstom UK and Ireland.

“Not only are hydrogen trains zero-carbon, they are near-silent and emit no particulates, which means they offer substantial air quality and noise pollution benefits too,” he added. “On cost, hydrogen trains can help to avoid the necessity for line electrification, which represents a significant investment for customers.”

The trains could initially run in the North, between Bishop Auckland and Middlesbrough, and Liverpool and Widnes, The Sunday Times reported.

“Less than 50% of the UK network is electrified, and much that isn’t electrified is unlikely ever to be so,” said Crossfield. “Starting with this conversion, we think hydrogen could offer the right zero-carbon solution for many parts of the network.”

Alstom is already testing a purely hydrogen train, the Coradia iLint, in Germany.

Last week, an IMechE report called for UK investment in hydrogen technology. The report, Energy from Gas: Taking a Whole System Approach, said the gas could store excess energy from renewable sources, ready for use in heating, power and transport.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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