RSSB appoints global engineering consultancy to review case for hydrogen trains

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 (GB) mainline.

The work will involve establishing a high-level operational concept, the associated operational hazards, and regulatory obligations.

The news follows a proposal by UK government to replace all diesel-only trains by 2040. Alongside electrified rail and battery powered trains, the deployment of hydrogen powered trains offers a lower carbon alternative to diesel.

Working closely with manufacturers, regulators, rolling stock owners and train operators, Arup’s work will inform the specific design solutions of hydrogen-powered trains, factoring in operation and safety risks.

The study, which is due to finish in February 2020, will also determine what level of standardisation is needed across the country’s railway system, clarifying the route to market from a safety and compatibility perspective.

Trials of hydrogen-powered trains were 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.

This study will review their readiness to enter operation on the National Rail network, and it means the UK could be in the position to quickly follow in the footsteps of countries like Germany where hydrogen powered trains are already in active service.

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”

Anthony Perret, Head of Sustainable Development Programme at RSSB said: “Rail is already a 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.”

The RSSB appointment is the latest in a series of rail commissions delivered by Arup’s Technical Risk teams, building on similar work.

The team is also assessing the safety risk to consumers in order to support the safety case development and regulatory obligations for the safe use of hydrogen in heating our homes as part of Arup’s management of the UK Government’s £25m Hydrogen for Heat programme.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source and can deliver or store a tremendous amount of energy. Incorporating hydrogen into the public transport system is seen as important to increase demand, in a move that will reduce costs and provide confidence in hydrogen as a secure and affordable fuel.

Due to its high efficiency and low emissions, hydrogen and fuel cells have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emission in many applications. So deployment in rail could be an essential step in the Government’s ambitious plan to develop an innovative hydrogen economy that will help the transition to clean energy and create new skilled jobs.

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