The Anonymous Widower

Hydrogen-Powered Railway Electrification

This may seem rather bizarre, but I’m not talking about electrifying whole lines.

There appears to me to be a need for small power sources to power railway electrification and other rail-related equipment and facilities, that are not connected to the electricity grid.

Opportunities could be.

  • Electrifying tunnels.
  • Boosting supply on third-rail systems, which need a connection every two or three miles.
  • Electrifying short branch lines.
  • Powering level crossings.
  • Powering drainage pumps.
  • Powering isolated stations.

But anywhere close to a railway that needed a reliable electricity source would be a possibility.

Hydrogen As A Source Of Electricity

If hydrogen is used in a fuel cell to generate electricity, the only by-product is water.

Hydrogen is already used to power buses in London

It obviously works, but I’ve always been puzzled about why it isn’t used in more road vehicles. It could be that the logistics problems of refuelling are too complicated and expensive.

Could it be less complicated with trains?

Alsthom have recently launched a hydrogen-powered train, which I talked about in Is Hydrogen A Viable Fuel For Rail Applications?. So they must think it is a viable fuel for trains.

According to the Alsthom video in my related post, the Alsthom Coradia iLint train uses a combination of a hydrogen-powered electricity generator and batteries to provide continuous power and handle regenerative braking.

So why not use hydrogen-power to generate electricity at locations alongside the railway?

Suppose the small power station was providing power to a 750 VDC third-rail electrified railway. In a remote area, the small power station could be using solar panels or wind turbines coupled with batteries to provide a continuous electricity supply.

Intelligent Control System

The power station would be controlled so that it was efficient.

Ensuring Safety

People worry about the safety of hydrogen, as we’ve all seen film of the Hindenburg.

I would design a hydrogen-powered electricity generator for rail use to be buried at the side of the track, with only necessary connections above the surface.

The hydrogen-powered generators would also be contained within the railway security fencing.

What Trains Could Be Powered?

Using hydrogen at track-side means that any unmodified  electric or bi-mode train can benefit from zero-carbon hydrogen-power.

Distributing The Hydrogen

The obvious way to distribute the hydrogen would be by train. It would surely be possible to design a hydrogen-powered locomotive and tanker, which could deliver the hydrogen between the production source and the various generators.

Hydrogen Availability

Hydrogen is variable around the UK, but in certain areas there are large amounts of the gas created in chemical plants with rail access.


I won’t be consigning this idea to the bin.





December 14, 2017 - Posted by | Transport | , ,


  1. […] I put a few notes in Hydrogen-Powered Railway Electrification. […]

    Pingback by Solar Power Could Make Up “Significant Share” Of Railway’s Energy Demand « The Anonymous Widower | December 14, 2017 | Reply

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    Comment by Alex | January 20, 2018 | Reply

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    Comment by Alex | January 21, 2018 | Reply

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