The UK has commenced mainline testing of the country’s first hydrogen-powered train as part of an ongoing effort to decarbonise the rail network.

The trials of the HydroFLEX hydrogen train follows nearly two years of development work.

HydroFLEX is developed by the University of Birmingham and rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook with a £750,000 grant from the Department for Transport (DfT). Separately, the developers also invested more than £1m on the project.

The hydrogen-powered trains are emission-free and use hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat.

Expected to be available by 2023, the technology will be retrofitted on existing diesel trains to make rail journeys greener.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “As we continue on our road to a green recovery, we know that to really harness the power of transport to improve our country – and to set a global gold standard – we must truly embed change.

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“That’s why I’m delighted that, through our plans to build back better, we’re embracing the power of hydrogen and the more sustainable, greener forms of transport it will bring.”

Shapps also announced plans to develop Tees Valley as a hydrogen transport hub, which will help in bringing together representatives from academia, industry and government to expedite the transformation, creating hundreds of jobs in the process.

DfT has already commissioned a masterplan to evaluate the feasibility of the hub. It is expected to be published in January.

Porterbrook CEO Mary Grant said: “Porterbrook is committed to innovation and the delivery of a carbon-neutral and sustainable railway. Today’s mainline testing of HydroFLEX achieves another important milestone on this journey.

“I’m also delighted to be able to announce our intention to start producing HydroFLEX trains, creating the world’s first electric and hydrogen-powered bi-mode rolling stock, as well as generating significant opportunities for the UK supply chain.”

Notably, the world’s first hydrogen train entered service in 2018 in Germany.

Austria’s ÖBB recently launched a three-month-long passenger trial of a hydrogen train.

Read our feature on HydroFLEX train here.