The Anonymous Widower

Universal Hydrogen And Railway Locomotives

On the product page of the Universal Hydrogen web site, there is a section, which is entitled Other Transportation Applications, where this is said.

Our lightweight, aviation-grade modular hydrogen capsules can be used in a wide range of transportation applications where weight, safety, and speed of refueling are important. We are working with partners in automotive, heavy equipment, maritime, and railroad domains. If you have an application that can benefit from our global modular green hydrogen distribution network, please get in touch!

I believe that the railway locomotive of the future will be hydrogen-electric. And so do some of the UK’s rail freight companies, judging, by some of their press releases.

  • It would have an electric transmission. like most locomotives today, such as the UK’s Class 66, Class 68, Class 70, Class 88, Class 93 and the upcoming Class 99 locomotives.
  • It will be able to use 25 KVAC overhead electrification, where it exists.
  • Hydrogen-power will be used, where there is no electrification.

The lowest-carbon of the locomotives, that I listed, will probably be the Class 99 locomotive.

  • Thirty have been ordered by GB Railfreight, from Swiss company; Stadler.
  • The locomotives will be built at Valencia in Spain.
  • It will have up to 6 MW, when running using electrification.
  • It will have up to 1.6 MW, when running using a Cummins diesel, with a rating of 2,150 hp.
  • Because a proportion of UK freight routes are electrified, it is likely that these locomotives will substantially reduce carbon emissions for many locomotive-hauled operations.

It should be noted that Cummins are heavily into hydrogen and their philosophy seems to embrace families of engines, which are identical below the cylinder head gasket, but with appropriate cylinder heads and fuel systems, they can run on diesel, natural gas or hydrogen.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the Class 99 locomotive will have a diesel engine, that has a hydrogen-powered sibling under development at Cummins.

With perhaps a power on hydrogen of about 2.5 MW, these zero-carbon locomotives would be able to handle upwards of ninety percent of all heavy freight trains in the UK.

These are further thoughts.

Alternatives To Cummins Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engines

There are two main alternatives, in addition to similar engines from companies like Caterpillar, JCB, Rolls-Royce mtu and others.

  • Fuel cells
  • Gas-turbine engines.


  1. Universal Hydrogen and others have fuel cells, that can probably deliver 2.5 MW.
  2. Universal Hydrogen use Plug Power fuel cells.
  3. Rolls-Royce have developed a 2.5 MW electrical generator, based on the engine in a Super Hercules, that is about the size of a typical beer-keg. I wrote about this generator in What Does 2.5 MW Look Like?.

Cummins may be in the pole position with Stadler, but there are interesting ideas out there!

Cummins have also indicated, they will build hydrogen internal combustion engines at Darlington in the UK.

Would One Of Universal Hydrogen’s Hydrogen Capsules Fit In A Railway Locomotive?

These are various widths.

  • Class 66 locomotive – 2.63 metres.
  • ATR72 airliner – 2.57 metres.
  • DHC Dash-8 airliner – 2.52 metres
  • Class 43 power car – 2.74 metres

I suspect that even if it was a bit smaller a hydrogen capsule could be made for a UK locomotive.

How Big Is The Market?

The UK has around five hundred diesel railway locomotives.


March 5, 2023 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Cummins be in a strong position if an existing engine could be converted to hydrogen. What w dont know is whether the safety authorities will permit the tanks to be slung underneath where the the diesel tanks are now. They seem to roof mounted on buses and European trains

    Comment by Nicholas Lewis | March 5, 2023 | Reply

  2. Gas turbines have been tried for railway applications before, with limited success.

    And there are also the options of converting ICE engines to CNG, LPG, or DME (the latter is the easiest for existing diesels)

    Comment by MilesT | March 5, 2023 | Reply

  3. Gas turbines have been tried in railway applications before with limited success.

    And for ICE engines there are the options of converting to CND, LPG, or DME (DME is the easiest for existing diesel engines)

    Comment by MilesT | March 5, 2023 | Reply

  4. The Rolls-Royce engine is a 2.5 MW generator and it has been designed for many applications.

    Comment by AnonW | March 5, 2023 | Reply

  5. Thought you might want to look at this …

    Why hydrogen, not electric, is JCB’s choice for hitting zero emissions. Lord Bamford explains why

    Comment by PJS | March 6, 2023 | Reply

  6. My perception is that gas turbines work best to serve steady loads for long periods, and railways are not often like that, especially in the UK. And it is still polluting combustion.

    Comment by MilesT | March 6, 2023 | Reply

  7. Rolls-Royce have run a lot of gas turbines on hydrogen and seem happy according to their press releases.

    Comment by AnonW | March 6, 2023 | Reply

  8. Rotary (Wankel) engines are 25% more efficient using hydrogen and more efficient when running at constant speeds. They are one third smaller and lighter than piston engines. Mazda now have a rotary hybrid, the MX-30. The only ICE engine worth using is a rotary.

    Comment by John | March 8, 2023 | Reply

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