UK Hydrogen trains: Are these the eco-friendly trains of the future?

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Devil's Advocate

May 24, 2010
A hydrogen locomotive is a bit like a steam locomotive, insomuch as the name refers to an intermediary stage rather than an original fuel source. Commercial scale hydrogen is only as "eco-friendly" as the primary energy source that was used to create it. Since energy conversion always creates waste any hydrogen solution will always be less efficient than a more direct usage. Which is why it makes more sense to use hydrogen as a backup and shortfall solution rather than a primary fuel source.

MARC Rider

Apr 5, 2011
This is basically a fuel-cell electric train. It's true that there are no NOx, VOC and particulate emissions, which would make it far superior to diesel. The amount of CO2 emissions depends on how the hydrogen is generated. If it's made from natural gas methane, it's still a fossil fuel powered vehicle. If they use electricity to decompose water, it depends on the source of electricity -- wind or solar electricity would be more or less true zero CO2, whereas electricity generated from coal would have a measurable fossil fuel CO2 footprint. You'd have to do a life-cycle analysis to compare the CO2 emissions from the various hydrogen source scenarios with those of diesel.


Service Attendant
Feb 12, 2018
The disadvantage of H2 fuel cell trains is that they are often less efficient than electric batteries. Both are environmentally friendly at the train. As pointed out, either can be good or bad environmentally overall, depending on how the electricity or hydrogen is made and distributed. The fuel cell is more efficient than a diesel at the train and can be lighter than a pure battery train (the fuel cell train will have some batteries).

Hydrogen works best with a nearby source of cheap and clean electricity. Wind and hydroelectric power are good examples. There are a number of H2 fuel cell trains that have recently entered service or are on ordered. Fuel cell cars have used high pressure H2 storage for a while without any significant safety problems.

The details of the service often determine the economics. If you are running under catenary with modest lengths of non-electrified track, you can charge batteries under the catenary. The train ends up being catenary plus battery. If your in the mountains with nearby hydroelectric, then fuel cells may be the answer, if catenary isn’t an option.

I could go on forever, but search for Hydrail, iLint train, etc. to find out more. Please remember that many people either have a vested interest in one solution or that some evaluations are more about theory than practice.

Take care.