The Anonymous Widower

Thoughts On A Hydrogen-Powered Bi-Mode High Speed Train

My stockbroker and pension fund manager keeps contacting me about hydrogen power. There seems to be a lot of money chasing few good investments.

What I find surprising is that two of the leading fuel cell companies are Canadian; Ballard and Hydrogenics, with one supplying Alstom with fuel cells for their hydrogen powered train.

Bombardier at Derby, who are another Canadian company, have been very quiet on hydrogen.

These are my thoughts.

The Aventra Is A Plug-And-Play Train

I believe that the control system on an Aventra looks at the train and determines what cars make up the train. Hitachi certainly do this with their A-trains like Class 800 trains and I suspect that the control systems of most modern trains can do it, as it allows trains to be lengthened and shortened as required.

Electric Multiple  Units Have An Electrical Power Bus

I believe that most electric multiple units have an electrical power bus that connects all cars to the electrical supply from the pantograph or third rail shoes.

On a Btoitish Rail-era Class 319 train, which has DC traction motors, this is 750 VDC, but on modern trains, which generally have AC traction motors, it is probably something more appropriate.

The Design Trend In Electrical Multiple Units Is To Have More Powered Axles

Bombardier are certainly going this route with the new Class 345 trains for Crossrail.

I found this snippet on the Internet which gives the formation of the new Class 345 trains.

When operating as nine-car trains, the Class 345 trains will have two Driving Motor Standard Opens (DMSO), two Pantograph Motor Standard Opens (PMSO), four Motor Standard Opens (MSO) and one Trailer Standard Open (TSO). They will be formed as DMSO+PMSO+MSO+MSO+TSO+MSO+MSO+PMSO+DMSO.

So as both PMSO cars are there, I would assume that the current seven-car trains are two MSO cars or an MSO and a TSO car short of a full-train.

The power cars/total cars ratio will be as follow.

  • Seven-car train – 0.86
  • Nine-car train – 0.89

In The Formation Of A Class 707 Train, I showed that the ratio for Class 707 trains is just 0.40, whereas Greater Anglia’s siomilar five-car Class 720 train appears to have five cars with motors.

Could this increase in the number of powered axles mean the following?

  • Better acceleration for the same electrical power.
  • More, but smaller and lighter traction motors.
  • Less wheel-slip in some rail conditions.
  • Each axle could be controlled individually, to minimise wheel-slip, which leads to extra maintenance costs.
  • Smoother regenerative braking, as effectively every axle is braked without the use of inefficient friction brakes.
  • If batteries are used for regenerative braking, then one smaller battery can be fitted to each car with motors.

But the extra traction motors could cost more.

Only Bombardier seem to have gone all the way. Perhaps, they have found that modern manufacturing methods can produce more affordable traction motors.

One consequence of distributed power, is that each car will have a high electrical load, so there will be a need for a sophisticated electrical power bus going to every can on the train.

A Car With A Diesel-Powered Electricity Generator

I have ridden in the cab of a Class 43 locomotive.  Admittedly, it was one that had been modified with a new diesel engine, I was surprised how quiet 2,250 hp can be, just a few feet away.

Obviously, the sound-proofing was of the highest quality.

This picture shows a Stadler train, which has a diesel-powered car in the middle of the train.

Greater Anglia’s new Class 755 trains will use this technique.

Intriguingly, British Rail designed the record-braking Class 442 train, with all the electrical equipment and traction motors in the middle car of a five-car set.

I suspect because of the design of an Aventra, Bombardier could put a diesel engine in one the middle cars to create a bi-mode Aventra.

Bombardier have said in this article on Christian Wolmar’s web site, that they are working on a 125 mph bi-mode Aventra.

In the Class 172 train, each car has a 360 kW diesel engine, so a five car 125 mph bi-mode train could need a substantial amount of power.

A Car With A Hydrogen-Powered Electricity Generator

In Alstom’s Coradia iLint, the hydrogen tanks and generators are mounted on the roof, thus taking advantage of the larger Continental loading gauge.  Wikipedia says this about the train.

The Coradia iLint is a version of the Coradia Lint 54 powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Announced at InnoTrans 2016, the new model will be the world’s first production hydrogen-powered trainset. The Coradia iLint will be able to reach 140 kilometres per hour (87 mph) and travel 600–800 kilometres (370–500 mi) on a full tank of hydrogen. The first Coradia iLint is expected to enter service in December 2017 on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony, Germany.

In the UK, there isn’t the space, but I believe that a car could be built with a hydrogen tank and the appropriate size of hydrogen-powered electricity generator.

Bear in mind, that a hydrogen power system will be is a lot quieter and vibrate less, that a diesel one.

The Plug-and-Play nature of an Aventra or other modern trains, would mean that after the train software has been modified, it could detect that the train has a car with a hydrogen-powered electricity generator.

The car would deliver its electricity, when it is require, through the electrical bus.

The train’s computer system would control the generator, so that the level of power needed to move the train was available.


Batteries are an integral part of Alstom’s Coradia iLint as this promotional video shows.

I believe that Bombardier make extensive use of batteries in the Aventra for regenerative braking, running for short distances without electrification and electrification failure.

Why Do I Think A Hydrogen-Powered High Speed Train Is Possible?

By High Speed Train, I mean one that can travel at 200 kph or 125 mph.

Most energy is needed to accelerate the train, not to maintain the high cruising speed.

So if you take a train running along a line with only a few stops, that is fairly level with no long climbs, there will be a minimal power requirement, except where accelerating from a stop.

Energy requirement can be reduced by the following.

  1. Design the line as straight as possible.
  2. Remove as many gradients as possible.
  3. Have separate tracks for stopping and high-speed traffic.
  4. Install a modern signalling system, so that trains run efficiently.
  5. Remove flat junctions and level crossings
  6. Have a very efficient train with low rolling resistance and good aerodynamics.
  7. Have as few stops as possible.

Network Rail seem to be improving the tracks all over the UK to this standard and Point 6 is satisfied by modern trains like Aventras.

Point 7 depends on getting the timetable right.

Adding all these factors together and you can see why I believe a hydrogen-powered High Speed Train is a possibility.


The great advantage of developing a hydrogen-powered train, is that a lot of the initial testing can be done in a lab, as all you need to develop is a power module, that can fit in the train, that can generate the required number of kilowatts.

Independently, the train company would need to develop an electric train capable of 125 mph running.


Hydrogen-powered High Speed Trains could run on several lines in the UK.

Midland Main Line

The Midland Main Line is the obvious line for a hydrogen-powered High Speed Train.

  • A lot of the route is already capable of 125 mph running.
  • Large sections are three or four tracks.,
  • The Southern section from Bedford to St. Pancras is electrified, so hydrogen power would only be needed North of Bedford.
  • The new East Midlands Franchise will streamline the intermediate stops.
  • Parts of the line go through the World Heritage Site of the Derwent Valley and would be difficult to electrify. Quiet hydrogen-powered trains would be acceptable to all.
  • Selective electrification could be applied at Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield, to charge batteries and accelerate trains.

There is a lot of work going on =North of Bedford as far as Kettering and Corby.

  • The Corby branch is being made double track.
  • Bedford to Glendon Junction, where trains to Corby leave the Midland Main Line, will  become four tracks.
  • Tracks will be electrified to Kettering and Corby.
  • 125 mph running will be possible as far as Glendon Junction and Corby.

Will the two fast lines be electrified between Kettering and Glendon Junction?

This would enable trains going North from Kettering to accelerate to 125 mph using the electrification, rather than hydrogen or battery power.

The electrification would catapult them the nearly thirty miles to Leicester at 125 mph, with speed maintained by using small amounts of hydrogen or battery power.

Coming South, the train would get to 125 mph leaving Leicester, either using a short length of electrification through the station or by use of the onboard power.

Small amounts of hydrogen or battery power would keep the train at 125 mph, until it could connect to the electrification at Glendon Junction.

I’m assuming that the signalling can keep the fast lines free of slow traffic. But even if they are slowed by a crossing train, regenerative braking using the battery will enable speed to be recovered quickly.

This article on Rail Technology Magazine is entitled DfT Deal Means East Midlands HS2 Station Could Open Early.

East Midlands Hub station would obviously be electrified for HS2 services from Birmingham and London.

So perhaps a few miles of electrification could be added to the Midland Main Line to get trains to operating speed, after a stop at the station.

In addition, could selective electrification be applied at other stations like Derby, East Midlands Parkway, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield.

It could be a bit like a game of 125 mph Pass-the-Parcel.

Trains could be at 125 mph for most of the way from St. Pancras to Sheffield, giving a journey time somewhere in the region of ninety minutes.

North Wales Coast Line

I’ve never travelled on the North Wales Coast Line.

  • It is around ninety miles long.
  • It has an operating speed of 90 mph
  • As it’s a coastal line, I suspect that the route is fairly level.
  • No-one would complain about the noise reduction of a hydrogen-powered train.
  • Virgin’s Class 221 trains take about a hundred minutes from Holyhead to Chester with six stops.

It is a route, where a bi-mode train could probably save some minutes, as they could use the electrification South of Crewe.

Alstom have already set up a base in Widnes and are interested in demonstrating hydrogen trains between Chester and Liverpool via the Halton Curve when it reopens.

But a train with a slightly better performance to the Coradia iLint could be ideal for Liverpool to Chester and along the North Wales Coast.

Basingstoke To Exeter

The West Of England Line goes from Waterloo to Exeter and has the following characteristics.

  • The Waterloo to Basingstoke section is forty-eight miles long and electrified.
  • The Basingstoke to Exeter section is 124 miles long and not-electrified.
  • The route is fairly level.
  • The operating speed is 90 mph.
  • The route is served by 90 mph Class 159 trains.

This is one of those lines, where a bi-mode train would be ideal.

The route might be suitable for a hydrogen-powered train.

Ashford To Southampton

Between Ashford and Southampton, there is only one section that is not electrified and that is the Marshlink Line, which is just 26 miles long.

Other Routes

I suspect there are other routes, but I do think gentle lines without too many gradients are probably the best lines for hydrogen-powered trains.

Other Trains

As Hitachi’s IEP and Stadler Flirts have similar electrical layouts and design, a similar technique involving hydrogen poower could probably be used.

January 19, 2018 - Posted by | Transport | , , , ,

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