Arup to help put UK on track for hydrogen trains

10 December 2019 3 min. read

UK railways could soon follow in the footsteps of other global transit systems by deploying a new generation of hydrogen-powered trains. Consultancy Arup has been engaged by the RSSB to produce a report charting the course for bringing hyrdrail to Great Britain’s mainline.

Hydrail is the generic adjective term describing all forms of rail vehicles, large or small, which use on-board hydrogen fuel as a source of energy to power the traction motors, or the auxiliaries, or both. The technology is said to be a huge boon in terms of emission targets for public transport, as instead of carbon dioxide, it only emits water as exhaust.

In countries like Germany, hydrogen-powered trains are already in active service, and the UK could soon be in the position to emulate the hydrail projects on the continent. Rail industry body RSSB has appointed global engineering consultancy Arup to develop a ‘route map to enter service’ for hydrogen-powered trains on the Great Britain mainline.

Arup to help put UK on track for hydrogen trains

The news follows a proposal by the UK government to replace all diesel-only trains by 2040, due to their environmental impact. Arup’s work will now involve establishing a high-level operational concept, the associated operational hazards, and regulatory obligations. Working closely with manufacturers, regulators, rolling stock owners and train operators, the resulting paper will inform the specific design solutions of hydrogen-powered trains, factoring in operational and safety risks.

Commenting on the news, Albert Law, Project Director and Senior Consultant, Technical Risk, Arup, said, “Safety remains critical to the rail industry’s aim to deliver low-carbon passenger journeys whilst improving customer performance and customer experience. It is vital that we treat the railway as a system, and when deploying a new technology, we must interrogate the operational approaches, constraints and regulatory obligations. Managing technical risk early creates an efficient, safe and reliable environment for train operations, delivery and ultimately passengers and freight.”

The study, which will conclude in February 2020, will also determine what level of standardisation is needed across the country’s railway system, helping National Rail clarify the route to market from a safety and compatibility perspective. It follows trials of hydrogen-powered trains being included as a commitment by Abellio when it was awarded the East Midlands franchise in August, and several organisations have already developed hydrogen solutions for the UK.

Anthony Perret, Head of Sustainable Development Programme at RSSB, remarked, “Rail is already a naturally low-carbon transport mode, but there is still potential for the industry to make a further step change in emissions reduction. For rail to play a major role in enabling the UK economy to be net zero by 2050, we will need a mix of electrification, hydrogen and battery technology. This study will highlight our readiness to embrace the emerging benefits of hydrogen powered trains on our network.”

Elsewhere in public transport, single-decker hydrogen buses have already been operating on central London routes, as well as in Aberdeen and Brighton. In Spring 2019, it was announced the world’s first generation of hydrogen doubledeckers are set to join that fleet, with Wrightbus in Northern Ireland – which also manufactured the New Routemaster buses introduced in 2012-13 – set to undertake the work, following its recent administration and sale.