The design of a hydrogen-powered train for the UK market has been unveiled by manufacturer Alstom and rolling stock leasing company Eversholt Rail.

The new ‘Breeze’ will be a conversion of an existing Class 321 train, reengineered to create a clean train that produces only water vapour as its exhaust, with no harmful emissions at all. Hydrogen is used to generate electricity using a fuel cell, where the gas is combined with oxygen from the atmosphere to produce energy and water, and that energy then powers the train through conventional traction motors.

The ‘new’ trains could run across the UK as early as 2022.

Alstom and Eversholt Rail have announced the new ‘Breeze’ conversion of a Class 321 train to hydrogen fuel. (Alstom/Eversholt Rail)

Alstom has a wealth of experience with hydrogen-powered trains. The company’s Coradia iLint began operations in September 2018 in Germany, where they now operate in regular passenger service on a daily basis.

Although the iLint is a newly built train, the conversion of the Class 321 to hydrogen power will use similar technology. The innovative technical solution is the first to allow a hydrogen train to fit within the standard UK loading gauge, and it will also create more space for passengers than the trains they are intended to replace.

The Alstom facility in Widnes will manage the conversion of the Breeze trains, creating high quality engineering jobs in this new sector. The proven and reliable Class 321 is an excellent fit in terms of characteristics, fleet size and availability for conversion to a Hydrogen Multiple Unit (HMU).

Commenting on the announcement, Rail Minister Andrew Jones MP said: “Hydrogen train technology is an exciting innovation which has the potential to transform our railway, making journeys cleaner and greener by cutting CO2 emissions even further. We are working with industry to establish how hydrogen trains can play an important part in the future, delivering better services on rural and inter-urban routes.”

In addition to the existing fleet in Germany and this announcement for the UK, there is growing interest in Alstom’s hydrogen technology worldwide, including in France where the President of the Occitanie region, Carole Delga, recently announced a proposal to introduce the technology on trains there.