HydroFLEX: preparing the UK’s first hydrogen powered train for mainline testing

HydroFLEX: preparing the UK’s first hydrogen powered train for mainline testing
30 September 2020

Colleagues in our rolling stock and certification teams helped ensure HydroFLEX, a project led by rolling stock owner Porterbrook, in partnership with the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE), commenced mainline testing as the UK’s first hydrogen powered train.

Based on a Class 319 electric multiple unit, the HydroFLEX vehicle is fitted with hydrogen fuel tanks, a fuel cell and battery pack to provide independent traction power capable of operation with zero carbon emissions.

The vehicle successfully undertook its first phase of mainline testing on September 29th achieving top speeds of 50mph.

Hydrogen offers significant potential to help decarbonise the railway network.

Safety and certification expertise

For testing to proceed on Network Rail's mainline infrastructure, the vehicle first required approval by an EN17065 accredited certification body and an EN17020 accredited inspection body.

Our teams fulfilled both requirements, with our rolling stock experts preparing the vehicle's Safety Case, and colleagues in Ricardo Certification, an independent accredited business within the Ricardo group, undertaking an assessment in accordance with RIS-2700-RST, producing an Attestation Statement along with the Safety Assessment Report as the project’s appointed Assessment Body.

Towards net zero carbon rail

HydroFLEX was originally developed by Porterbrook and BCRRE as a response to the UK government’s challenge to remove diesel-only trains from the national network by 2040.

In future, this hydrogen powered concept could see vehicles operating on electrified sections of track with energy drawn from an overhead catenary or conductor rail, before transitioning seamlessly to zero emission self-powered operation for route sections or entire branch lines that are yet to be electrified.

HydroFLEX's fuel cell unit is powered by hydrogen stored in high pressure tanks and oxygen sourced from ambient air. The fuel cell converts the mixture and generates electricity of up to 100kW for traction whilst generating only emissions of pure water as a by-product.

Two lithium ion battery packs store electrical energy which powers the train’s existing traction systems throughout the vehicle’s operational duty cycle.

“We are proud to have supported Porterbrook on this important project to pave the way for mainline testing of HyrdoFLEX, the UK’s first hydrogen powered train,” commented Stewart Kenworthy, deputy business manager of independent assurance for Ricardo Certification.

“Hydrogen offers significant potential to help decarbonise the railway network, substituting for diesel power systems and eliminating emissions at the point of use. We were pleased to be able to develop a vehicle safety case for the novel hydrogen fuel system, working with Porterbrook and its partners on the HydroFLEX project to address the many unique hazards associated with use of hydrogen as a fuel, in this first mainline traction power application.”