The UK government have stated that hydrogen (H2) technology should be considered on the Great Western network between London and the West Country.

The Department for Transport (DFT) indicated that H2 could be used as an alternative power supply on smaller branch lines that will never be electrified.

Alstom, French developer of the world’s first H2-powered train, has been in in discussions with British operators regarding the technology and have recently signed a deal to build and operate 14 zero-emission H2 trains in Lower Saxony, Germany.

The majority of trains in Britain run on diesel despite concerns over harmful emissions. Less than half of the network is electrified. Successive governments have committed to further electrification but it has proved prohibitively expensive.

”Hydrogen-powered trains will shortly start operation in regular service in Germany and could also potentially be a solution.”

The Department for Transport, Great Western Rail Franchise Public Consultation, Moving Britain Ahead

Alstom’s trains, which emit only water, use H2 fuel cells to create electricity. Energy is stored in high-performance batteries which power the train.

The document, published by the Department for Transport, detailed, “Addressing rising passenger demand on non-electrified routes is therefore likely to require additional trains, either through new-build or by applying innovative ‘bi-mode’ technologies to existing trains. Hydrogen-powered trains will shortly start operation in regular service in Germany and could also potentially be a solution.”

Trials on the line are expected to take place from this spring and it is expected that passengers will be carried from December 2021. The Coradia iLint train can cover up to 620 miles at a time and reach a maximum speed of 87mph.