Alstom and Eversholt Rail have announced that work will begin on developing the business case to convert existing Class 321 Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) to Hydrogen Fuel Cell operation, potentially a very cost effective way to decarbonise rail routes without the capital cost of installing Overhead Line Equipment (OLE).
Here in Scotland the Class 320 is effectively a 3 car version of the same EMU. The potential application of HMU units to the areas of Scotland’s rail network where the capital cost of electrification is simply not viable is very clear. The visual intrusion of OLE on the landscape would also be avoided.
One thing that isn’t mentioned is whether or not the pantograph is kept. It seems obvious that an HMU moving into an electrified zone would maximise it’s efficiency if able to switch to grid, power, extending range and reducing fuelling requirements.
Alstom already have Coradia iLint HMU sets in service on the continent, with orders in place for 14 more. The sets currently operate over a 100km route, with a range of up to 1000km giving potential for a full days service.. Refuelling is currently by mobile tank, with the intention is to provide refuelling at the maintenance depot, with hydrogen generated on site from electrolysers powered by on site wind turbines.
The UK’s unique loading gauge however means that these sets are unlikely to ever make an appearance here, but development of the Class 321 conversion will draw directly on the same expertise.