The RSSB, the rail industry body has appointed Arup, an engineering consultancy firm to create a route-map where hydrogen-powered trains can be deployed on the mainline in the UK.
This new project will give Arup the opportunity to identify a high-level operational concept while identifying any risks and regulatory obligations. The study will come to a conclusion in February 2020 and will also seek to identify the required standardisation throughout the railway system in the UK should hydrogen trains be deployed.
Along with this, Arup will also look to identify a clear route to market for hydrogen trains as well as the infrastructure, taking into consideration safety and compatibility.
The RSSB has plans to decarbonise the rail sector and the hydrogen trains could help to meet the target. In 2018, the then Transport Minister Jo Johnson set a target to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040
As a result, Hydrogen-powered trains could work alongside electrified rail and battery-powered trains, offering a feasible low carbon alternative to diesel.
There are a number of organisations already working to develop hydrogen rail solutions in the UK. The University of Birmingham is working with Porterbrook and Transport for West Midlands to determine whether it is possible to implement hydrogen refuelling infrastructure at railway depots.
Along with this, the rail operator Abellio has made a commitment to trialling hydrogen-powered trained when it won the East Midlands franchise in April.
In January, Alstom and Evershot Rail released a design for a hydrogen train that could be used within the UK market and this would require the conversion of the current Class 321 passenger trains, giving them the ability to operate on hydrogen. They will only release water and vapour into the atmosphere, helping to reduce Co2 emissions and the harmful emissions that derive from diesel engines.
Germany is already using hydrogen trains, with the equipment being operated by Alstom, which is a French company that manufactures transport equipment.
While rail is already a mode of transport that releases low carbon emissions, there is still room for the industry to reduce it further.
As the UK economy aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, the rail industry can play a significant role in achieving this by utilising hydrogen technology alongside electrification and battery technology.