HydroFLEX on mainline

Under their HydroFLEX programme, Porterbrook and the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research & Education converted two Class 319 EMUs to run on hydrogen traction as demonstrators.

UK: The Rail Safety & Standards Board has published an interim report as part of its investigation into the deployment of hydrogen fuel cells in rail applications.

In launching its study into key technical questions which need to be answered to permit the safe and efficient roll-out of hydrogen traction, RSSB warned that the technology can bring ‘significant, and significantly different, safety risks. Some may be relatively obvious, such as the risk of hydrogen gas combustion under very high pressure. Others are less obvious, such as where on rail vehicles, and on which routes, hydrogen storage tanks should be installed.’

Existing fixed infrastructure will determine whether trains using Britain’s constrained loading gauge should have these storage tanks stowed under a vehicle or above it, ‘each of which will have their own additional safety issues’.

Hydroflex diagram

RSSB says it is looking to address five key themes over the course of its investigation, noting that ‘the number and complexity of the questions, and the necessary permutations of them, are formidable’.

The interim report addresses two of the five topics. The first looked at the suitability of existing UK railway standards and considers whether there were any gaps that need to be filled. A detailed gap analysis identified a need for development in a total of 97 standards areas. These range from fuel cell placement to depot maintenance and operation staff competence to excessive electromagnetic emissions.

The second looked at the boundaries of responsibility between organisations potentially involved with deploying hydrogen fuel cells on the operational railway. The report considers the expected division of responsibilities between train operators and other organisations as well as the legal context. It discusses how such issues have been handled in other high-risk industries such as nuclear and construction, and concludes with reference to two ‘thought-provoking’ case studies.