University of Birmingham start-up wins prestigious international rail industry award for innovation

UK start-up, Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions, has been announced as winner of ‘Best SME’ at the European Rail Clusters Initiative Innovation Awards.

Vanguard award being presented

Left - right: Dirk-Ulrich Krüger Managing Director at Rail S Office; Alexander Burrows, CEO of Vanguard; and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Markus Hecht Technische Universitat

The award, presented at a ceremony in Berlin, recognised Vanguard’s work on the development and commercialisation of hybrid hydrogen/battery traction power system used to retrofit diesel trains converting them to clean power.

The team at Vanguard were responsible for the design of the UK’s first mainline-approved hydrogen train, HydroFLEX, they are now working with the Severn Valley Railway to convert a shunter locomotive from diesel to hydrogen and have also developed a refuelling system to enable rapid hydrogen fuelling onto trains currently being utilised by Porterbrook to fuel the HydroFLEX train.

Founded in 2020 to commercialise their expertise in developing solutions to deploy hydrogen technology onto the railway Vanguard is a spin out company from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education. Europe’s largest academic-based group that provides world-class research, education, and innovation to the global rail industry. Vanguard is also a member of the University’s BCRRE Rail Innovation Cluster, the UK member of the European Rail Clusters Initiative.

In a huge category covering rail SMEs from across the whole of Europe it is an immense honour to be recognised for our work and I am so pleased for the team.

Alex Burrows, CEO, of Vanguard

Alexander Burrows, CEO of Vanguard, said: “On behalf of the whole Vanguard team I am absolutely delighted to accept the ERCI Innovation Award for Best SME. In a huge category covering rail SMEs from across the whole of Europe it is an immense honour to be recognised for our work and I am so pleased for the team who have put all of their effort into our founding, development, and significant growth over the last two and a half years.

“Railways across the world need to decarbonise and modernise cost-effectively and our solutions enable them to convert existing rolling stock from dirty diesel to zero-emission hydrogen/battery technology. By taking out emissions and re-using and modernising existing trains, we are providing a cost-effective and more sustainable solution to deliver modern, reliable trains for passengers and freight.”

The ERCI Innovation Awards took place at Innotrans in Berlin to award prizes to the best European innovations in the railway industry from those companies who submitted applications, at Technology Readiness Level 6 or above, to the annual ERCI Railway Innovation Competition. The competition identifies the best innovation from both large enterprises (won by iXblue from France) and from small and medium enterprises.

Notes for editors

  • For further information about Vanguard please visit contact Alexander Burrows 
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • BCRRE is the largest specialist railway research, education and innovation centre in Europe with over 170 researchers and professional services staff. 
  • European Railway Clusters Initiative - Founded in 2010, ERCI is the only railway meta-cluster network in Europe. The ERCI includes 15 major research and innovation driven railway clusters and represents over 2000 SMEs in 16 European countries. During 2022, the ERCI was registered as a legal entity with the prospect of delivering more premium content and offering more collaborative opportunities for railway sector innovation.
  • The primary objective of the ERCI is to reinforce the competitiveness of the European rail industry through cooperation between large companies, SMEs and research institutes on close-to-market innovation projects.