The Anonymous Widower

Industry Urged To Decide On Alternative Technology

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Rail Magazine.

This is the first paragraph.

The rail industry needs to decide on the right approach to alternative technology as soon as possible, to ensure the industry can continue to reduce emissions.

Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group, Anthony Perratt of the RSSB, outlined how there was a huge opportunity to replace ageing Sprinter trains with new units powered by alternative energy sources like batteries and hydrogen.

The Size Of The Opportunity

Sprinter trains in service of stored in the UK include.

These add up to 516 trains, with a total of 1035 cars.

In the Wikipedia entry for the Class 710 train, this is said.

TfL announced that it had placed a £260m order for 45 four-car Bombardier Aventra EMUs.

This works out at nearly £1,500,000 for each car of a modern train.

This means that replacement of the Sprinters, with new independently-powered trains, would be project of the order of £1.5billion.

That is a market, that would be very much desired by a train builder.

Battery, Diesel Or Hydrogen Power?

Diesel power is probably not a good idea, if it can be avoided.

The following points about hydrogen- and battery-powered trains should be noted.

  • Most hydrogen-powered trains are battery-powered trains, with a hydrogen fuel-cell to recharge the batteries.
  • Battery technology is improving fast.
  • Systems to rapidly charge batteries will be available in a couple of years.
  • Battery-powered trains can use existing electrification to charge the batteries.
  • Hydrogen-powered trains may need a large tank for the hydrogen, which limits passenger capacity.
  • Hydrogen-powered trains need a refuelling structure, which may be more difficult to install, than a charging system for battery trains.

I feel that innovative engineers will be able to find ways to enable battery-powered trains on routes that need independently powered trains.


I don’t think, that we’ll see many long-term applications of hydrogen-powered trains in the UK.




July 23, 2019 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , ,


  1. hydrogen looks a lot more attractive as part of a general switch from fossil fuels, feeding a variety of industries, not just trains. I see Hauts de France is trialing hydrogen buses and plans to do likewise for trains, based on the industrial complex around Dunkirk. This is similar to schemes in Merseyside and Teesside, and also on the Main in Germany.

    As I see it, ATM, EMUs with batteries are ideal for short branches linked to electrified lines – and there are large numbers of these, Merseyrail’s plans being a good example – but aren’t suited for rural lines far from electrified lines, such as most of Wales or Scotland. Buses are much the same: batteries are fine for urban routes, but not suitable for long-distance coaches. As with diesel, you only need to install hydrogen refuelling at depots.

    I was interested to see the submission from the Decarbonisation Taskforce to the Transport Select Committee saying that “for passenger rail, the challenge is at heart one of policy and leadership, not technology”. The manufacturers and leasing companies are investing in the new technologies, but won’t produce the trains without firm orders. Ultimately, it’s the DfT who currently should be creating the conditions, in the franchise agreements, where such orders are placed, but they don’t seem to have any coherent plan for doing this.

    Comment by Peter Robins | July 23, 2019 | Reply

    • Hydrogen certainly works as an urban fuel for buses and trucks. I also think it will replace natural gas in domestic and commercial heating and in industrial processes. But I’m yet to be convinced of its value in powering passenger trains. Especially, as I believe battery and charging technology could make it possible for most stopping passenger services in the UK to be run by battery trains charged at each stop. The real problem on the railways is heavy freight and that will best be sorted by electrification. But hydrogen might do it, with higher pressure storage.

      Comment by AnonW | July 23, 2019 | Reply

      • hydrogen trains have a battery, so one way of viewing them is as a range-extender for battery trains. The large the tank, the further it can go without being refueled. gives some info on fast charging in general, and seems rather sceptical on whether the time needed can be improved very much. There seems to be a lot of research going into supercaps and supercap/battery hybrids, so it may well be something along those lines will appear before too long.

        Comment by Peter Robins | July 23, 2019

  2. I noticed a single-decker No 444 near North Middlesex Hospital was running on hydrogen.

    Comment by mauricegreed | July 23, 2019 | Reply

  3. Stadler’s 55 Akku Flirts for Schleswig Holstein (with option for 50 more) are reported to be costing €600m, though that includes 30 years of maintenance. The State transport minister was quoted as saying “I’m particularly pleased that this solution is also so cost-effective. Calculated over the investment period, these trains work out a little bit cheaper than diesel multiple units.”

    Comment by Peter Robins | July 23, 2019 | Reply

    • I suspect too, that every few years when the batteries are replaced, there will also be an improvement in range and performance, which would improve the economics.

      Comment by AnonW | July 23, 2019 | Reply

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