The possibility of retro-fitting diesel multiple units (DMUs) to run on hydrogen fuel cell technology has been put to the test as part of an RSSB and Network Rail-funded innovation research programme.
Fuel Cell Systems, which has worked alongside the University of Birmingham and Hitachi Rail Europe, says the six-month study has demonstrated the feasibility of installing hydrogen fuel cell technology on DMUs as an alternative to electrification.
Using mathematical modelling, the study found that using hydrogen fuel cell technology could improve journey times, drastically cut emissions and improve ride quality.
One of the routes studied was between Norwich and Sheringham. The team found that fuel cells could reduce the journey time by 7 per cent and fuel energy consumption by 52 per cent compared to the current Class 156 DMUs.
However, Fuel Cell Systems said there are currently no plans to develop a prototype fuel cell EMU.
Trials have been undertaken in recent years to explore alternatives to electrification on branch lines and rural routes where major infrastructure upgrades would be uneconomical. Retrofitting existing rolling stock with fuel cell technology is seen as a potentially cheaper and less disruptive option.
Tom Sperrey, managing director of Fuel Cell Systems, said: “Compared to traditional engines, fuel cell vehicles are cleaner, emitting no exhaust fumes, just a small quantity of pure water. They are going to be a major contributor in combatting atmospheric pollution.”