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Are hydrogen trains the future of UK travel?

Updated: Jan 15, 2019

Hydrogen-powered trains could run on British railways as early as 2022, as plans to introduce fuel cell technology to the network gather pace.

The trains, which are almost silent and have zero emissions, will operate at speeds of up to 90 mph and release steam only as a by-product. The new trains, which will be called “Breeze”, will be employed on commuter and suburban lines.

French rail multinational Alstom and UK rolling stock operating company (ROSCO) Eversholt Rail Group have unveiled the design for a new hydrogen fuel cell train for the UK market. Based on the tried-and-tested British Rail Class 321, the fuel cell trains – nicknamed ‘Breeze’ – will bring zero-emission hydrogen tech to parts of the UK that still run on diesel.

Find out more about the Alstom train design.

“Hydrogen train technology is an exciting innovation which has the potential to transform our railway, making journeys cleaner and greener by cutting carbon dioxide emissions even further. We are working with industry to establish how hydrogen trains can play an important part in the future, delivering better services on rural and inter-urban routes,” Andrew Jones, UK Rail Minister and MP for Harrogate

Plans are in place to convert more than 100 trains into the first fleet powered by hydrogen fuel cell, thereby combining the efficiency and practicality of the existing rolling stock with the versatility and environmental benefits of hydrogen fuel cells.

The Department for Transport is supporting the plan because it allows operators to scrap diesel trains without the need to install hugely expensive overhead power lines that are needed to operate electric carriages.

The railways need to decarbonise and the Government has rightly set out a goal to eliminate diesel rolling stock by 2040. Hydrogen trains offer an ideal solution for routes which are unlikely to benefit from electrification, and our innovative engineering solution means they can now fit within the UK loading gauge and can quickly be ready to roll on Britain’s railways.

In Germany, Alstom’s hydrogen trains are already transporting passengers in the comfort and quiet that is characteristic of these trains. The Breeze offers British rail users the opportunity to share in the pleasure that is a journey on a hydrogen train.

They are unlikely to be of much use on networks with widespread electrification (such as those found in the South East of England) but in areas without third rails or overhead lines, hydrogen trains will deliver much-needed zero-emission mobility.


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