The rail industry is starting to explore the potential benefits hydrogen can bring as a fuel source for traction. Two pre-series Alstom Coradia i-Lint trains have been operational for just over a year between Bremervörde, Cruxhaven and Bremerhaven in Lower Saxony. Here in the UK, Porterbrook’s HydroFLEX train is undertaking rigorous safety testing as proof of concept.
The UK is aiming to be net-zero for carbon emissions by 2050. The rail industry has its own a challenge along the way: no diesel-only trains operating in the UK by 2040.
If you speak to any of my rail expert colleagues they will say that experience shows that the UK rail industry can deliver on innovation and many countries look to the UK as the benchmark for how things should be done. We should and can be at the forefront of de-carbonising rail as a mode of transport.
Hydrogen has some attractive attributes as a fuel source. It is already produced as an industry by-product and for industrial purposes and green hydrogen can also be produced by using energy from renewable sources an area that will only grow. The Committee on Climate Change and Government has recognised that hydrogen will play a very significant role in our Net Zero world and there is mounting pressure on Government to provide the necessary incentives and policy for growth. To de-carbonise rail, the railway as a whole system needs to be looked at. Electrification of routes needs to continue, but there are areas where electrification is not justified (e.g. on lower utilised regional routes). It is here that many see hydrogen playing a vital role to plug-the-gap over the coming years.
Arup is already looking at a route map for hydrogen trains to enter service in the UK. We look forward to seeing the outcome of this work in February.
For rail to play a major role in enabling the UK economy to be net zero by 2050, we will need a mix of electrification, hydrogen and battery technology