A report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in the UK says that investment in hydrogen trains is vital to improving air quality but it should be not considered an alternative to electrification schemes.

The report, however, supports the introduction of hydrogen trains on non-electrified routes to improve air quality.

The report, titled The Future for Hydrogen Trains in the UK, empathises that the hydrogen trains should only be seen as an alternative when rail line electrification is not economically or technically feasible.

Additionally, the report highlights that hydrogen requires a large amount of storage space, making it unsuitable for freight and high-speed trains.

Hydrogen trains, which produce only water as emission, are often regarded as an alternative to diesel-powered locomotives to decarbonise the railway industry.

“Less than 50% of the network is electrified and the remaining half is unlikely to ever completely become so, particularly given the cancellation of three schemes.”

Currently, around 29% of Britain’s rail fleet run on diesel, emitting large concentrations of particulate matter and significantly affecting health and the environment.

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Institution of Mechanical Engineers head of engineering Dr Jenifer Baxter said: “The government has set out plans to phase-out the use of diesel-only trains by 2040 in order to reduce carbon emissions, but less than 50% of the network is electrified and the remaining half is unlikely to ever completely become so, particularly given the cancellation of three schemes in the North, the Midlands and Wales.”

The report recommends that the government should reconsider the cancellation of electrification programmes and devise a long-term strategy to manage such projects.

It also urges the industry to develop hydrogen trains and build supporting fuelling and servicing facilities. The report calls for the development of hydrogen train technology in specific industrial areas where it can support the wider transport network.

Last month, Alstom and Eversholt Rail unveiled the design of a new hydrogen train for the UK. The train, codenamed Breeze, will be developed by converting the existing Class 321 trains.