The Anonymous Widower

The World’s First Bi-Mode Hydrogen-Electric Train

This news page on the University of Birmingham web site is entitled HydroFLEX Secures Funding For Hydrogen-Powered Train Design.

The page is mainly about the new funding from Innovate UK, that I wrote about in First Of A Kind Funding Awarded For 25 Rail Innovation Projects, but it also includes this significant paragraph.

As well as being the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train, HydroFLEX is also the world’s first bi-mode electric hydrogen train. It will be undergoing mainline testing on the UK railway in the next few weeks.

One of my disappointments in the design of the Alstom Coradia iLint, is that, it is designed as a hydrogen-power only train, where it could surely have had a pantograph fitted, for more efficient working.


  • I suspect many hydrogen-powered trains will only be doing short distances, where electrification is not available, so daily distances under hydrogen power could be quite short.
  • In the UK, a smaller hydrogen tank would certainly ease the design problems caused by a large fuel tank.
  • There have been improvements in hydrogen storage in recent years.

The funding award to the project talks about raft production, so are the engineers, aiming to design a hydrogen power-pack on rafts, that could be fitted underneath the large fleets of retired electric multiple units, that are owned by Porterbrook.

Now that would be a game changer.

  • Porterbrook have thirty-seven Class 350 trains, that will be replaced in the next few years by new trains. The electric trains are less than a dozen years old and Porterbrook have been talking about fitting batteries to these trains and creating a battery/FLEX train. Would making these trains bi-mode hydrogen-electric trains be better?
  • Birmingham wants to open up new rail routes in the city on lines without electrification. What would be better than a hydrogen powered train, designed in the city’s premier university?
  • Routes from Birmingham to Burton-on-Trent, Hereford, Leicester, Shrewsbury, Stratford-on-Avon and Worcester would be prime candidates for the deployment of a fleet of bi-mode hydrogen-electric trains.
  • Birmingham have already asked ITM Power to build a hydrogen filling station in the city for hydrogen buses.


June 18, 2020 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. there’s a good summary of the issues in a recent BBC article which in turn links to an article on Birmingham Uni’s site and states “We store about 20kg of hydrogen, and that is enough to run the fuel cell for three hours”. This is a lot less than the iLint, but is a lot more than the current range of batteries, particularly if the train runs partially on electrified track and can recharge the batteries without using hydrogen.

    For shorter distances, I can’t see how hydrogen would be preferred to batteries, and would see hydrogen as useful on longer routes like in rural Scotland or Wales.

    Comment by Peter Robins | June 18, 2020 | Reply

  2. I can see a clever sizing algorithm, where hydrogen-powered trains have their battery sized according to the route and the timetable. There appears to be a lot of space under Class 319, Class 321 and Class 350 trains, so will the hydrogen EMU of the future be a battery train, with its own on-board hydrogen-powered range extender.

    Look at a route like Leamington and Nuneaton, which is electrified at Nuneaton and Coventry. Hydrogen would probably only be needed on the Leamington and Coventry section to top up the batteries.

    The possibilities are endless.

    Comment by AnonW | June 18, 2020 | Reply

    • Leamington and Nuneaton are only 20 miles apart, which is easily within battery range, and I don’t see what benefit you would get from adding hydrogen. The limitation with current batteries is surely the recharge time, which limits it to route termini. Current batteries can’t handle a longer route, say Marylebone-Brum, without having the train stop part-way along for 10-15 mins for recharging (or getting everyone to change trains). This is where I’d see hydrogen being used, with a refueling point at both ends.

      Comment by Peter Robins | June 18, 2020 | Reply

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