The UK’s first hydrogen train is set to make its debut on mainline rail tracks as the Transport Secretary prepares to unveil a green technology drive as part of the coronavirus bounce back.
Cabinet minister Grant Shapps will visit the start of trials in Warwickshire on Wednesday where the hydrogen-fuelled locomotive will be put through its paces on the main network.
Unlike diesel trains, hydrogen-powered trains do not emit harmful gases, instead using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said the ground-breaking technology will be available by 2023 to retrofit current in-service trains to hydrogen, helping decarbonise the rail network and meet the target of removing diesel-only vehicles from the passenger network by 2040.
Mr 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.”
The trials of the train, known as Hydroflex, have been supported with a £750,000 grant from the DfT and follow almost two years of development work and more than £1 million of investment by both Porterbrook, a major owner of British rolling stock, and the University of Birmingham.
Porterbrook said commuter trains will start to be produced as it continues works with the University of Birmingham to develop a hydrogen and battery powered module that can be fitted underneath the train, allowing more space for passengers.
Mary Grant, chief executive of Porterbrook, said: “I’m 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.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash called for future hydrogen trains to be produced in the UK to aid the economic recovery after coronavirus.
“Expanding the UK’s manufacturing base for hydrogen trains could help support the decarbonisation of the transport sector and our economic recovery from Covid-19,” he said.
“It is absolutely vital that all the manufacturing is carried out domestically.
“Government investment in the UK’s rail manufacturing sector would create new skilled jobs and boost the economy as part of our green economic recovery from Covid-19.”
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association meanwhile lobbied for the Government to “reinstate” its shelved electrification plans for the country’s rail lines if it is to achieve a green transport network.
The DfT is hopeful that the railway breakthrough will allow more transport modes to adopt the environment-friendly fuel.
Out of its £23 million “hydrogen for transport” programme, £6.3 million will fund a green hydrogen refuelling station and 19 hydrogen-powered refuse vehicles in Glasgow, a world-first for the size of the fleet, according to the department.
A masterplan, expected to be published in January, will pave the way for exploring how green hydrogen could power buses, heavy goods vehicles, maritime and planes, as well as rail, a Whitehall spokesman added.
Following the development of the world’s largest versatile hydrogen in the Tees Valley, the Transport Secretary has also announced intentions to make the region into a so-called “hydrogen transport hub”.
It will bring together representatives from academia, industry and Government to drive the UK’s plans to embrace the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel, with the ambition of creating hundreds of jobs, DfT confirmed.