The recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland served as background for showing off two hydrogen-powered trains that could point the way to making rail travel an even better environmental bet than it is now.
The two projects, both created by rebuilding older rail equipment, take different approaches to using hydrogen as fuel, but both are able to operate with no emissions except pure water. One was developed by a consortium of organizations including Birmingham University; the other is a project of Scotrail, Scotland's rail operator.
The more ambitious of the projects is HydroFLEX (image above). The consortium worked with Porterbrook, a railcar manufacturer to update equipment from the early 90s. The $10 million prototype uses 36 high-pressure hydrogen tanks, and has a 300-mile range with speeds up to 100 mph. The 'Flex' part of the name is because it can also run on electric current or batteries. Network Rail, the quasi-government agency that managers the UK's rail infrastructure, has identified several areas where it could be a practical choice.
Aside from the propulsion, HydroFLEX has a number of other 'green' features, including tables and seats made from recycled plastic, low-energy LED lighting and even the external graphic wrap is recyclable.
The other hydrogen train project was developed by Arcola Energy with funding from the Scottish government. The train uses a more 'conventional' hydrogen system of fuel cells. It's been lent out to a railway heritage line so that the public can actually ride it in the spring.