All aboard HydroFLEX, the UK’s first hydrogen passenger train
You wait years for a new generation of eco-friendly train to arrive, and then three arrive at the same time. Just in time for COP26 – and for Boris Johnson to dodge his private jet to jump on board for a photo op at Glasgow Central Station. Encouragingly, however, these rail pioneers are showing real substance over style, signifying a pan-British push towards greener rail travel.
COP26 in Glasgow is the perfect forum to promote sustainable rail, as the Scottish Government has committed to decarbonising its public rail network by 2035. Network Rail also sees a green future – Chief Executive Andrew Haines says: point starting point as the most ecological means of public transport. Decarbonising our railway, fostering biodiversity on railway land and helping our suppliers clean up their act is fundamental to the future of railways in Britain.
If you were at COP26, you could have boarded the £8million HydroFLEX, the UK’s first hydrogen passenger train. This 30-year-old train has been refurbished by rolling stock supplier Porterbrook and 30 other organisations, including the University of Birmingham.
The HydroFLEX runs on 277 kg of hydrogen, safely contained in 36 high-pressure tanks. It’s not so much low emission as zero emission – the only waste is pure water. The 300-mile range and speeds of up to 100mph also make it viable, while flexibility is built in – the train can run on hydrogen, electricity or battery. Network Rail expects the technology to be applied in Scotland, Teeside and East Anglia in the future.
Durability doesn’t stop at propulsion – digging deeper, it’s a seriously green train. The efficient LED lighting system uses up to 60% less energy, while the vinyl livery is the UK’s first recyclable graphic liner, reducing waste by 50% and waste weight by 60% . The tables are made from recycled plastic bottles; even the seats are made from cut material.
Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, sees the HydroFLEX as not the complete solution, but rather a way to drive development forward: “We showcased our HydroFLEX at COP26 to stimulate serious discussion about decarbonizing iron. We believe hydrogen is a credible energy source for non-electrified rail routes, and we invite transport authorities to join us in seeing how we can best deploy this technology at pace.
The other hydrogen contender is the Scottish government-backed Arcola Energy project, which runs on a hydrogen fuel cell power system. Their train – a Class 314 which was in service with Scotrail until 2019 – has just been moved to the heritage railway line at Bo’ness and will offer public access and journeys on this line by spring. private.
Vivarail is the odd one out of the trio making waves at COP26 – and just before when it became the first electric train to cross the iconic Forth Bridge. They also offered trips during COP26 in Glasgow, but their technology diverges towards fast-charging battery energy storage on board their Class 230 unit.
Questions – as with all pioneering technologies – remain, but Helen Simpson, Director of Innovation and Projects at Porterbrook, stresses that at least the vagaries of UK weather won’t be a problem: “There’s no no different weather restrictions for HydroFLEX, so it can operate within the normal range of temperatures and weather conditions seen in the UK. Regardless of COP26 globally, this triumphant triumph bodes well for a brave new green era of rail travel in the UK.