HydroFLEX: UK’s first-ever hydrogen-powered train begins mainline trial

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The first-ever hydrogen-powered train will run on the UK mainline in a big step forward towards the UK’s net zero targets.

Trials of the train, known as HydroFLEX, which have been supported with a £750,000 grant from the Department for Transport, follow almost two years’ development work and more than £1million of investment by both Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham.

Unlike diesel trains, hydrogen-powered trains do not emit harmful gases, instead using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat. The ground-breaking technology behind the trains will also be available by 2023 to retrofit current in-service trains to hydrogen helping decarbonize the rail network and make rail journeys greener and more efficient.

The Transport Secretary also announced the ambition for Tees Valley to become a trailblazing Hydrogen Transport Hub. Bringing together representatives from academia, industry and government to drive forward the UK’s plans to embrace the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel could create hundreds of jobs while seeing the region become a global leader in the green hydrogen sector. Tees Valley is perfectly placed to reap these benefits, following the development there of the world’s largest versatile hydrogen refuelling facility made possible through Government funding.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“As we continue on our road to a green recovery, we know that to really harness the power of transport to improve our country – and to set a global gold standard – we must truly embed change.

“That’s why I’m delighted that through our plans to build back better we are embracing the power of hydrogen and the more sustainable, greener forms of transport it will bring.”

To kick start this exciting development in Tees Valley, the DfT have commissioned a masterplan to understand the feasibility of the hub and how it can accelerate the UK’s ambitions in Hydrogen. The masterplan, expected to be published in January, will pave the way for exploring how green hydrogen could power buses, HGV, rail, maritime and aviation transport across the UK. The aim would then be for the region to kick on and become a global leader in industrial research on the subject of hydrogen as a fuel as well as an R&D hub for hydrogen transport more generally, attracting hundreds of jobs and boosting the local economy in the process.

Through our £23m Hydrogen for Transport Programme, the plans announced today also include £6.3m of funding for a green hydrogen refuelling station and 19 hydrogen-powered refuse vehicles in Glasgow, a world-first for the size of the fleet. This will give a post-Covid boost to local economies through the creation of green jobs while also decarbonising the transport network.

The next stages of HydroFLEX are already well underway, with the University of Birmingham developing a hydrogen and battery powered module that can be fitted underneath the train, which will allow for more space for passengers in the train’s carriage.

Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, said:

“Porterbrook is committed to innovation and the delivery of a carbon neutral and sustainable railway. Today’s mainline testing of HydroFLEX achieves another important milestone on this journey. I’m also delighted to be able to announce our intention to start producing HydroFLEX trains, creating the world’s first electric and hydrogen powered bi-mode rolling stock, as well as generating significant opportunities for the UK supply chain.

“The department is developing even more ways to slash emissions across transport, as work to create the Transport Decarbonisation Plan continues. The plan will develop a first-of-a-kind approach to decarbonise every mode of transport and is due to be published before the end of this year.”

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