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Old trains' new life as hydrogen project gets set for take-off

PUBLISHED: 16:01 08 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:19 09 January 2019

Engineering company Alstom is planning to convert Greater Anglia units into hydrogen trains. Picture: ALSTOM

Engineering company Alstom is planning to convert Greater Anglia units into hydrogen trains. Picture: ALSTOM

Archant

Some of the oldest trains on the Greater Anglia network are set to be rebuilt with revolutionary hydrogen power when they are replaced by new electric units over the next two years.

Some of Greater Anglia's Class 321 units were refurbished two years ago. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSome of Greater Anglia's Class 321 units were refurbished two years ago. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The British Rail-built Class 321 units – which entered service in 1988 – operate electric suburban services from London to Ipswich, Essex and Cambridgeshire.

They are due to be replaced by new Bombardier Aventra trains which are due to enter service at the end of this year and to be gradually introduced over the following two years.

Some have been updated with air conditioning, wi-fi and new seats – but all are due to be returned to leasing company Eversholt when the new trains arrive.

Now it has been announced that some of these trains will be converted into hydrogen trains by French-owned engineering company Alstom at its factory on Merseyside.

These will allow the trains to operate on non-electrified lines across the country using hydrogen power which creates only water as an exhaust.

Alstom has built hydrogen trains that have entered service in Germany, and further trains using this technology are planned for French railways and other European networks.

The new “Breeze” train project was unveiled by Alstom and Eversholt – and has won the backing of the government.

Rail minister Andrew Jones 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.”

The government has announced plans to phase out diesel-powered trains in the UK by 2040 – and hydrogen power is seen as a crucial to that ambition because only 42% of the network is electrified, much lower than that in most European countries.

It is not clear where the hydrogen trains are likely to operate when they first enter service in 2022 and they are not likely to return to East Anglia.

It is thought that Wales could be a likely destination for them because the Principality will have no electrified lines apart from the InterCity line between Cardiff and London.

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