GB rail can be a major contributor to the government’s commitment to reach a national target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Carbon emissions from electric trains are a fraction of those from a diesel train and are set to fall further as the National Grid decarbonises. But electrification of the entire network is not possible, so branch and rural routes urgently need an alternative to diesel traction. While battery-only trains may be suited to certain lines, hydrogen fuel cells offer a more flexible low carbon solution. 

Trains powered by hydrogen fuel cells are ‘on their way’, but the industry needs guidance on the infrastructure needed to refuel and maintain them. The University of Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education (BCRRE), supported by Porterbrook, has examined the requirements for hydrogen passenger train depots, and explored the processes and procedures needed to support fleets.

The feasibility project concluded that commercially available electrolysers can be used to generate hydrogen near refuelling points, which would avoid costs associated with transporting and storing fuel. It also identified hydrogen re-fuelling standards and commercial arrangements currently used in comparable sectors that can be adapted.

Tyseley Traction Maintenance Depot (TMD) is an ideal location to deploy a trial fleet of fuel cell electric multiple units, which could be supported by the spare hydrogen production capacity at Tyseley Energy Park (TEP). The depot is conveniently located for a number of non-electrified lines and a culvert that runs between the TEP and TMD could be used to house an electrolysis plant for large-scale hydrogen production.

Peter Sargant, Head of Rail Development, and Andrew Page, Future Mobility Lead, Transport for West Midlands - West Midlands Rail Executive, said: ‘The Clean Air and Decarbonisation policy agenda is a major challenge for the West Midlands... Understanding the challenges surrounding the operation of hydrogen-powered trains will be especially important and this study has flagged up an opportunity to use Tyseley depot for a trial for the hydrogen refuelling of trains. West Midlands Rail Executive and Transport for West Midlands looks forwards to working with RSSB and other rail industry partners as we look to develop these plans.'

An appendix to RSSB GIGN7621 ‘Guidance Note for the Development and Design Considerations of passenger Rolling Stock Depots’ is planned to support manufacturers and operators design and deploy hydrogen fuelled passenger trains.

This project was funded through RSSB’s “Intelligent Power Solutions to Decarbonise the Railway” competition, which was launched in October 2018 and made £1m available to support the development of alternative, energy-efficient technologies for high-speed trains and freight trains, and innovative solutions for the provision, storage and distribution infrastructure of energy.