Over the last months several announcements on the deployment of rails point to the need to think again on how and where large scale hydrogen production and distribution could best be located  :

ALSTOM last November unveiled a concept for a hydrogen fuel cell variant of its Coradia Polyvalent (Régiolis) multiple unit for the French regions. For fuel cell technology to be viable on the French railway network, Alstom indicated that  it will need to deliver a fleet of 25-50 hydrogen trains before 2028. There are currently around 1000 DMUs in service in France, at least half of which are more than 20 years old and therefore due for replacement within the next decade. Alstom plans to offer a 160km/h bi-mode train equipped for electric and fuel cell operation. A 72m-long four-car train will accommodate around 230 seated passengers with capacity for up to 200kg of hydrogen, providing a range of 400-600km on non-electrified lines between fuelling cycles. The introduction of hydrogen fuel cell trains is in line with the objectives of the French government’s hydrogen plan, which was published in June 2018. In September Alstom announced it was working with French National Railways (SNCF) and the regions of Grand-Est, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, and Occitanie on the development of a battery variant of the Régiolis.

On January 7, 2019 Alstom and leasing company Eversholt Rail have unveiled their ‘Breeze’ proposal to convert surplus Class 321 electric multiple-units to hydrogen power. The 25 kV 50 Hz Class 321 EMUs which will be retiring  the end of this year.  Greater Anglia is replacing them with new vehicles from Bombardier Transportation and Stadler. Alstom said the ‘proven and reliable’ EMUs were ‘an excellent fit in terms of characteristics, fleet size and availability for conversion to a hydrogen multiple-unit’. Alstom and Eversholt are now working with stakeholders to develop business cases and detailed plans for the introduction of hydrogen-powered units and the associated fuelling infrastructure that  could enter in service from 2022. Alstom UK & Ireland Managing Director Nick Crossfield sais that “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.’

Rail Minister Andrew Jones said hydrogen trains were ‘an exciting innovation which has the potential to transform our railway, making journeys cleaner and greener by cutting CO2 emissions even further’, and the government was ‘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.’ Alstom says the conversions will take place in batches of up to 15 trains at a time at the company’s facility at Widnes, near Liverpool, and the first could be ready by 2021. Eventually 100 class 321s could be converted.The trains could initially be used in the northeast, possibly on the Tees Valley Line between Bishop Auckland and Middlesbrough, and in the northwest between Liverpool and Widnes. According to Alstom, the trains will have a range of 1000km and a maximum speed of 140km/h. “We think the potential long-term application of hydrogen in Britain is very significant,” says Alstom UK & Ireland managing director, Mr Nick Crossfield. “Less than 50% of the UK network is electrified, and much that isn’t electrified is unlikely ever to be so. Starting with this conversion, we think hydrogen could offer the right zero carbon solution for many parts of the network.”

The Coradia iLint, Alstom’s first hydrogen train, is currently undergoing tests in Germany and two prototype trains are due to enter passenger service in Lower Saxony this month. Nearly a third of Britain’s rolling stock is diesel and all of these trains will need to be replaced or refurbished to hit the Government’s target of no diesel rail vehicles by 2040.

British Rail Engineering Limited built 117 class 321s in 1988-91 for regional and commuter services. Most of the fleet will come off-lease within the next few years as Abellio Greater Anglia takes delivery of new Aventra EMUs from Bombardier. At InnoTrans 2018 leasing company Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham signed a memorandum of understanding for an ex-Thameslink Class 319 EMU to be fitted with fuel cells, with Hydro Flex demonstration runs envisaged for mid-2019. Alstom’s first Coradia iLint hydrogen new-build hydrogen multiple-units entered passenger service in Germany in September 2018, while French national operator SNCF expects to run a fuel cell powered train in 2022.

Ballard Power Systems announced a purchase order from Porterbrook Leasing Company Limited on December 12, 2018 for a FCveloCity®-HD fuel cell module and related support to power a HydroFLEX train in the UK. The HydroFLEX will be the UK’s first fully sized hydrogen demonstrator train, which will showcase how hydrogen can be used to power a train that retains the ability to operate across existing electric routes, on either third rail or 25kV overhead power by the end of 2019 . The HydroFLEX train was a response to this from Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham’s “Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education” (BCRRE). Porterbrook will provide a Class 319 electric train for conversion by BCRRE’s technical and research experts into a HydroFLEX hydrogen-powered train.

“We are pleased to work with Porterbrook and BCRRE on the HydroFLEX rail programme. As evidenced by this activity in the UK, along with our work on fuel cell rail programmes in Germany and Cine, momentum is rapidly building behind the development and deployment of heavy-duty motive fuel cell solutions for both inner-city trains as well as intra-city trams,” said Jesper Themsen, President and CEO of Ballard Power Systems Europe A/S.