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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Hydrogen Powered Trains Are For Real In 2020

John Woodman

The trial run over a 50 mile round trip of a four car unit train powered by hydrogen fuel cells inaugurated a new era on Britain's railways today. The journey, sufficient for a tram train passenger service from Fleetwood to Preston and back, is a significant milestone in the transformation of Britain's rail motive power from diesel to electric but without need for third rail or overhead power collection systems. Much like the move away from diesel (and petrol) powered vehicles on our roads - the dawn of a new power technology is at hand in this country.

Costly overhead wire infrastructure will become redundant in the decades ahead - reducing capital costs and vastly simplifying maintenance of rail (and tram) rolling stock. Already in the Asia Pacific market the introduction of hydrogen cell power trams and tram trains are the must have technology for expanding and emergent light rail systems.

Glimmers of the same technology having application on (and along) the Fylde coast are emerging as public bodies grapple with improvement to connectivity linking towns and communities above and beyond the present 'frozen in time' remnants of railway and tram services. Both the missing links that came about with the closure of the Lytham St Annes electric tramway in 1937 - and its interrunning service into Blackpool as far as the Gynn - and the disconnected railway line to Fleetwood from Poulton are now presented with a whole new rail led future.

If anything this long deferment of these much needed railbound connections - may well become their salvation in a new era of power generation technologies - ones which conform to the equally pressing insistence on 'clean power' generation this century.

Such technologies are being made commercially viable at a rapid pace; transforming as it were almost overnight the commonly held dominance of pollutant diesel and petrol powered vehicles of all types and sizes. Blackpool's Unitary Authority is leading industry trends with strategies in place creating an all electric bus fleet within the decade; alongside what will hopefully become an expanded ambitious Fylde tramway network.

The news headline today reporting on the first UK hydrogen fuel powered train is the harbinger of a tranformative era on our railways (and indeed tramway expansion in our cities which badly need reduction in particulate effluence from diesel engines - particular in and around dense urban corridors). All forward planning on transport policies are obliged to acknowledge the flashing lights signalling hydrogen fuel powered rail (and road) transformative technology - one which will remove entirely need for overhead power wiring and intrusive infrastructure. Just as Blackpool's civic fathers in the 1880s foresaw the value of electric trams - even in their infancy; so we are witnessing an equivalent 'sea change' well over a century later.


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