University of Birmingham signs joint initiative to develop HydroFlex – the UK's first hydrogen train

The UK's first hydrogen powered train will be created following a new joint initiative between the University of Birmingham's Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education ('BCRRE') and Porterbrook.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed at Innotrans in Berlin, and will see Porterbrook provide a 'Class 319' electric unit to BCRRE for conversion by their technical and research experts into a hydrogen powered train which will be named HydroFlex. This will allow both organisations to demonstrate how this fuel-of-the-future might be deployed across the UK's rail network.

Development work has recently commenced and HydroFlex will undertake testing and demonstration runs in summer 2019.

The HydroFlex will retain the ability to operate across existing electric routes (on either 3rd rail or 25kV overhead power) and with the addition of a hydrogen fuel-cell it will also be capable of operating in self-powered mode, without the need for diesel engines.

Earlier this year Rail Minister, Jo Johnson MP, challenged the rail industry to develop decarbonisation plans, with the objective of removing diesel-only trains from the network by 2040. HydroFlex is Porterbrook and BCRRE's innovative response to this challenge, bringing together industry and academia in partnership to deliver the UK's first-in-class, clean energy, passenger train.

The Secretary of State for Transport, The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, joined representatives from Porterbrook and BCRRE for the signing. Discussions were then held on the potential for hydrogen technology to decarbonise the railway, as well as the world-leading rail R&D and innovation expertise to be found across the UK rail supply industry and through the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network.

Mary Grant, Porterbrook CEO, said: "I am delighted that BCRRE have chosen to work with Porterbrook on this exciting fuel-cell project. The HydroFlex will not only showcase rail innovation, it will also demonstrate how the private sector railway can effectively partner with educational bodies to jointly deliver real benefits to passengers, train operators and the communities our railways serve."

Dr Stuart Hillmansen, Senior Lecturer in Railway Systems at BCRRE, said: “We are very pleased to be working with Porterbrook on this hugely exciting project. Hydrogen powered trains offer a cleaner alternative to current diesel trains and this project demonstrates the opportunities and value of innovation in the rail industry."

The Secretary of State for Transport, The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, said: “This exciting relationship between Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham is a great example of how forward-thinking businesses and our world class universities can work together to deliver innovation that matters. I look forward to seeing the HydroFlex train coming to the UK railway in the very near future."

BCRRE has already undertaken a significant amount of research into the potential application of hydrogen fuel cell technology to railway operations and has worked with a number of global rail businesses to identify potential opportunities to use hydrogen as a clean alternative to diesel.

A team from BCRRE recently demonstrated Hydrogen Hero, a narrow-gauge train, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell at the Rail Live event in June 2018. Hydrogen Hero will also be operating at the RVE2018 on 4 October in Derby.

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For more information please contact Emma McKinney, Communications Manager (Health Sciences), University of Birmingham, +44 (0) 121 414 6681, or contact the press office on +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

Notes to Editors

  • 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 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) is the largest university-based centre for railway research and education in Europe, with more than 145 researchers and staff developing world-leading new technologies and products for trains, railway systems and Infrastructure. It also currently educates over 500 students a year through its Undergraduate, Masters, PhD and CPD programmes. www.birmingham.ac.uk/railway 
  • Porterbrook Leasing Company Limited ("Porterbrook") is a leading participant in the rail leasing market and has a rolling stock fleet of around 6,000 vehicles on lease or on order, which includes over 4,000 passenger vehicles. Since privatisation, Porterbrook has invested over £3bn in the UK rail market. The company is looking to invest a further £1bn in Britain’s railway over the next five years. Porterbrook has successfully introduced over 2,500 new vehicles into passenger service. The company continues to invest across its existing fleets to ensure they remain attractive to operators and passengers. Porterbrook also provides ongoing train maintenance services. In October 2014, the Porterbrook Group of companies was acquired by a consortium of investors including Alberta Investment Management Corporation (“AIMCo”), Allianz Capital Partners (“ACP”) on behalf of certain insurance companies of the Allianz Group, EDF Invest and a consortium of UTA/RBS/TIF.