The Anonymous Widower

Could Hydrogen Trains Be Used As Pathfinders?

I must admit, I have a soft-spot for hydrogen transport, but I suppose most people look back on their first real job  with a certain affection.

The only new hydrogen train under development for the UK Is the Alstom Hydrogen Aventra, which was announced in this press release in November 2021 and is entitled Alstom And Eversholt Rail Sign An Agreement For The UK’s First Ever Brand-New Hydrogen Train Fleet.

Little is known about these trains, except what is in the original press release.

  • Ten trains have been ordered.
  • Each will be three-cars.
  • Contracts will be signed in 2022, which didn’t happen.

Nothing is said about the following important features.

  1. What will be the operating speed?
  2. What will be the range on a fill of hydrogen?
  3. Will the trains have a pantograph, so they can be run on electrified lines with 25 KVAC overhead electrification?

All are important to train operating companies, who along with the Department for Transport need to be able to plan.

What Do I Mean By A Pathfinder?

I will look at the service between Reading and Basingstoke.

  • It is 15.4 miles long.
  • There are four stops, which will soon be five, with the addition of Reading Green Park.
  • The line is partly-electrified.
  • The service is only hourly and probably needed to be two trains per hour (tph).
  • It is currently run by diesel trains.

In a decarbonised railway, there are only two options for running this line.

  • Use hydrogen trains.
  • Electrify and use electric trains.


  1. The cost of the two options will be different.
  2. If the hydrogen and electric trains are both quality trains, the passenger experience will be similar.
  3. To run two tph, track and signalling modifications will be needed.
  4. These modifications would also allow a two tph diesel service.
  5. There is no way to accurately determine, how many passengers would use a two tph hydrogen and electric service.

So suppose the following plan were to be enacted.

  • Upgrade the track and signalling to allow a two tph service.
  • Run the two tph service with diesel trains.
  • Install hydrogen infrastructure for the route. In this case, it would probably be at the nearby Reading depot.
  • Run the two tph service with hydrogen trains.

Hopefully on the completion of some months of successful running of the hydrogen trains, the number of passengers to be expected will have been predicted to a better accuracy than UK railways normally manage.

Then the decision between hydrogen and electric trains can be taken.

If hydrogen trains are the decision, the trains could stay in service, but if electrification is the solution, then once the electric service is operating, the hydrogen trains would move on to the next line to be decarbonised.

Why The Alstom Hydrogen Aventra’s Need To Be Able To Use Electrification

If you look at routes, where hydrogen trains could be used as Pathfinders, they could include, some partially-electrified routes.

  • Reading and Bedwyn
  • Reading and Oxford
  • Reading and Gatwick
  • London Bridge and Uckfield
  • Ashford and Eastbourne
  • Preston and Blackpool South
  • Wisbech and Cambridge
  • Dereham and Norwich
  • Basingstoke and Exeter
  • Romsey and Salisbury
  • York and Scarborough

This list includes both routes with both types of electrification; 25 KVAC overhead and 750 VDC third rail.

But if the electrification is there and not used, the exercise will be labelled as greenwashing, by some.





May 22, 2023 - Posted by | Hydrogen, Transport/Travel | , , ,


  1. The plan was to use them in the NE as that is where the hydrogen economy was going to be trialled mind you that was a Boris thing.

    Comment by Nicholas Lewis | May 23, 2023 | Reply

    • It’s all gone so quiet with the trains. Provision of hydrogen won’t be needed for some years, as the trains seem stuck in the sidings.

      But hydrogen does seem to be getting its act together.

      Watch Centrica and HiiROC.

      Comment by AnonW | May 23, 2023 | Reply

  2. The Basingstoke line has had 2tph for many years and if Reading-Oxford isn’t done first it will likely be next in line for electrification, now that the connection to Bramley substation is in place.

    The higher acceleration that electric propulsion provides for these Stopping trains over diesel/hydrogen-powered vehicles is highly beneficial: the nonstop trains behind can go faster, only 2 trains needed (a 3rd diesel had to be added recently to safeguard the current service), and it’s a prerequisite for even considering a long-awaited new station at Chineham.

    Comment by Mark | May 24, 2023 | Reply

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