When is a H2 train not a H2 Train? – on its Maiden run

Rail industry chiefs have defended plans for the debut trip of Britain’s first hydrogen-fuelled train at COP26 in Glasgow after it was revealed it was powered by electricity for the exercise.

Delegates and visitors at the event will be able to preview HydroFLEX, which was developed by leasing firm Porterbrook and the University Of Birmingham.

The hydrogen-fuel system has been installed on the 30-year-old train, which has a top speed of 100mph and can also run on electricity and battery power, to show how the Government’s target of decarbonising railways by 2050 could be realised.

Ms Simpson said due to UK health and safety rules when hydrogen cylinders are installed in the system, they must be covered by protective panels and passengers are not allowed in the carriage where the system is stored. She explained: “You can imagine on the railways we’ve got a lot of management of safety, management of risk and lots and lots of protection systems in there – and therefore I couldn’t have anybody in there when the hydrogen was on board.

“One of the reasons we have not put hydrogen on this train at COP is so we can show people inside the inner workings of the hydro chamber where all the technical wizardry is and we can actually take people in to demystify that a little bit because you really wouldn’t notice anything different as a passenger [if hydrogen was on board].”

Ms Grant said the creation of HydroFLEX helped prove hydrogen-powered trains could be a part of a “greener future for trains”, which could complement other technologies such as electric and battery power.

Ms Simpson said one of the challenges around running HydroFLEX trains on the UK rail network is that they run on green hydrogen (hydrogen generated by renewable energy) – which is not widely produced across the UK.

She said “local production of the hydrogen” is the bit that is “not developed yet”, adding: “but we have the prototype”.

“What we are trying to do is showcase the technology, show that it is possible to use this technology in rail – that’s interesting for the rail industry who are trying to decarbonise and it’s interesting for people in the hydrogen economy in the production of green hydrogen because rail will be a big user of green hydrogen and therefore we might kick-start some process of local economies around hydrogen production. This is really a stepping stone of getting to the new trains of the future.”

Germany is set to be the first country that will see hydrogen-powered passenger trains travelling on its railways next year

The trains, developed by French railway manufacturer Alstom, have fuel cells and the hydrogen tanks mounted on their roofs.

Ms Grant said the UK could not purchase these types of trains because many tunnels in the UK are not tall enough to allow trains with hydrogen technology to pass through them – unlike their counterparts in Germany and other European countries.

She added: “We can’t just go and buy one of those and have them in the UK, it won’t fit. So the challenge for the UK is, how do we get hydrogen trains into the UK when there aren’t any new ones that we could go an buy today?.”

Prince Charles getting a tour of the The HYDROflex hydrogen powered train.
Helen Simpson showing Prince Charles the hydrogen-powered train (Photo: Porterbrook)

The train will be showcased as part of a programme of events during COP26, including one which will see schoolchildren from Glasgow join Network Rail engineers and the authors of best-selling children’s books for a journey on the HydroFLEX.

Prince Charles had a private viewing of the train on Friday, and met the team from Porterbrook.

Ms Grant said COP26 said was the “perfect platform” to showcase the train.

She said: “This train will have a purpose. It was just important at a very focused conference when we’re talking about climate that our HydroFLEX in this powerful format should feature.”

Source: i.

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