Scotland’s first hydrogen powered train is on track for 2021.

Having been announced in late December 2020 that Arcola Energy (leading specialists in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies) would lead the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA) team to deliver Scotland’s first hydrogen powered train. Other members are Arup (designers, planners, engineers, architects, consultants and technical specialists), Abbott Risk Consulting (safety, engineering and risk management) and AEGIS (providing regulatory third-party verification).

This consortium of industry-leaders in hydrogen fuel cell integration, rail engineering and functional safety will demonstrate this hydrogen powered train at the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway during the COP26 climate summit being held in Glasgow in November 2021.

SHFCA will be working with Scottish Enterprise, Transport Scotland (TS) and the Hydrogen Accelerator (HA), to support Scotland’s strategy to make passenger railways emission free by 2035.

The HA enables effective and efficient implementation of hydrogen technologies into Scotland and supports economic growth in this important low carbon sector. Funded by TS, the HA is a partnership between the University of St Andrews and the University of Strathclyde.

The SHFCA team will convert a former ScotRail Class 314 car passenger train (as shown below) into a fully certified, production-ready hydrogen train.  The train was decommissioned and has been taken to Bo’ness where it will be converted to run on hydrogen.

Hydrogen traction power will offer a safe, reliable and zero-carbon alternative for Scotland’s rail network. The hydrogen train project is a good opportunity for these industry leaders to work in partnership with Scottish technology providers to combine their available resources into effective action and provide the required solution.

This project has the potential to effect a significant shift in our philosophy regarding the future of Scotland’s rail rolling stock and for these companies and organisations to significantly alter the way things are done as a whole, which will contribute significantly to the Scottish Government’s Rail Decarbonisation Action Plan which sets out the way to make our passenger railways emissions free by 2035.

Taking the conversion of the former diesel-electric ScotRail Class 314 car passenger train to hydrogen power as a prime example the requirement will then be to look in the near future at how many other retired train stock can be brought back into use in the same carbon neutral way to make further climate gains.

Project member, Arup will use the project to develop and provide a roadmap to roll out hydrogen trains to support the decarbonisation of Scotland’s network as hydrogen offers a safe, reliable and zero carbon alternative to other forms of rail propulsion.  Part of that will be to understand the practical challenges of using hydrogen traction power on our railways to provide a secure, flexible, cost effective and zero carbon energy network.

Of course the most efficient process is for electricity from overhead cables as being the most efficient way to drive a train if that option is available.  The next most efficient approach would be to take that electricity and put it into a battery, use the battery to drive the motor.  So, the hydrogen fuel cell makes sense where those two options don’t work and you have to rely on diesel-electric.

It is expected that if the price tag on hydrogen could go down if business is scaled up, which is why a UK strategy needs to be formulated to build market confidence.  Scotland has many of the key natural resources and components necessary to grow a strong hydrogen economy and, as such, the Scottish Government is investing £100m to drive it forward.

The UK government agrees that low carbon hydrogen will be essential for achieving net zero targets, by balancing the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.  Hydrogen is essential for the energy transition for having a chance to get to net zero and for keeping the climate in check. One of the problems is where does the hydrogen come from?

Hydrogen in itself is an energy carrier so you need to make it from something. And green hydrogen has the potential for being an important part of the energy system of the future.

As stated in the ELRCL “Latest News” section on 31st March 2021 comments were submitted to Transport Scotland on Phase 2 of their second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2).  It was pointed out that the advantage with hydrogen or new battery technology trains is that they have no restrictions in terms of the type of lines they can operate on although the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR) is ideally suited.

In summary, Transport Scotland should be making a statement in STPR” for green energy by proposing the introduction of a suitable project for short-term delivery.  Of course, the conversion of that ScotRail Class 314 diesel-electric train to hydrogen operation later this year will no doubt be followed by a series of test runs. The ESSR while a fully operational freight line etc is an abandoned passenger line with no electrification and would be perfectly placed for the early introduction of hydrogen train trials. Indeed, these suburban lines and old station stops could within a reasonable time period be easily returned to operational passenger status.