Rail decarbonisation

Decarbonisation is one of two railway grand challenges (along with digitalisation) that requires a strategic, whole-sector approach with government, industry and academia working together. We are leading the way in decarbonising the railway in the UK and across the world.

Transport currently accounts for around a quarter of the U.K.'s greenhouse gas emissions and the UK Government has committed to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 80%, against 1990 levels, by 2050.

To support decarbonisation of the railway, here at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE), we have launched the Centre of Excellence in Rail Decarbonisation with six core capability areas. Our research and industrial application have provided many decarbonising solutions and we continue to do so to support the requirement for the UK to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050.

Our capability areas include:

Visit the Centre of Excellence in Rail Decarbonisation for full details.

We have a long history of researching the application of fuel cells and hydrogen in railway design. Hydrogen fuel cell technology is an effective alternative to diesel engines; potentially entirely carbon neutral in operation, they are more environmentally friendly while offering similar performance

The HydroFLEX project is a ground-breaking partnership between the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education and railway rolling stock company, Porterbrook. A UK first, it demonstrates how hydrogen could be deployed across the rail network to offer a cleaner alternative to current diesel trains.

The successful completion of mainline testing took place in September 2020, whereby HydroFLEX journeyed on the UK mainline for the first time from the Quinton Rail Technology Centre to Evesham and back accompanying Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, marking major step towards decarbonising Britain's railways and showcasing Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology and its application.

The use of hydrogen is key to helping to decarbonise our railways. We are working with industry to develop and apply the technology for the next generation of rail vehicles.

Hydrogen is set to become a major energy vector in a decarbonised economy, providing fuel to heat homes, power industry and transport. This forthcoming availability of Hydrogen Fuel, on a competitive price point will mean that railways will have access to a decarbonised fuel, to operate a range of services without any use of fossil fuels whatsoever.

The team within the Centre for Excellence for Rail Decarbonisation are guiding the global industry on the most effective and appropriate way to achieve net zero and full decarbonisation.

Dr Stuart Hillmansen

Dr Stuart Hillmansen

Reader in Railway Traction Systems

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