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.

At the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE), 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

Our ‘Hydrogen Hero’ demonstrator train which debuted in 2018 proved that this technology was possible and ready to be developed with an industry partner.

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

The project involves the conversion of an existing Class 319 train, fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell, giving it the ability to run autonomously on hydrogen power on non-electrified routes. 

With new funding for mainline testing recently announced, this project is a great example of what can be achieved by combining academic research, expertise and private sector know-how.

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.

Dr Stuart Hillmansen

Dr Stuart Hillmansen

Reader in Railway Traction Systems