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DfT minister tours green trains with Network Rail at COP26

Trudy Harrison MP, DfT minister and Member of Parliament for Copeland, was joined by Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines to get a closer look at the best of British low-carbon train technology at Glasgow Central station.

Ms Harrison MP was given a tour of a Vivarail's next-generation battery train and the Porterbrook HydroFLEX, a hydrogen-ready hybrid capable of being powered by hydrogen, battery or the overhead electric wires. Both of these trains have been used for tours and visits during COP26 as part of Network Rail's Green Trains @ COP26 event.

Last year, Network Rail announced that it had become the first railway in the world to set the most ambitious level of science-based targets for reducing carbon emissions, and released the interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy, outlining the further electrification of the mainline rail network and use of alternative fuel trains needed to meet those targets.

The DfT’s First of a Kind competition provided funding for the development of the technology used to on board both trains.

Several rail bodies that took part in the “high-level” event to showcase the Hydroflex train expressed surprise that the journey from Central Station round the Cathcart Circle was not be fuelled by hydrogen. It meant that the dignitaries travelled on a 30-year-old train that had been converted to run on the gas but which was powered by traditional overhead electric wires instead.

Train leasing firm Porterbrook insisted there were no problems with its UK-first train and it could have operated the trips using hydrogen. Chief executive Mary Grant said the company wanted to show off the interior of the train’s “ground-breaking” hydrogen tanks – so they had to be empty – and it had “chosen not to” run it on hydrogen. She said: "It‘s doing a disservice to the innovation and design to not show it. Your jaw will drop – I promise you.”

The Hydroflex train at Glasgow Central. (Jack Prentice)

Meantime, BMAC, which makes components for the train, announced last week: “This cross-industry collaboration will see the ground-breaking Hydroflex make its first passenger journeys at COP26 to showcase the possibility of leading British green technology on the world stage.”

Organisers described the event as a “high-level sustainable transport gathering” with “key public transport leaders...representing both the public and private sector from around the globe”. It was jointly hosted by International Association of Public Transport secretary general Mohamed Mezghani and International Union of Railways director general François Davenne. Others invited to take part included French railways SNCF chief executive Jean-Pierre Farandou, train manufacturer Alstom’s vice-president for sustainability Cecile Texier, Elisabetta Tromellini, her opposite number at the FNM Group, one of Italy’s biggest rail firms, and Valerie Davidson, acting chief executive of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, which runs the Glasgow Subway.

The following day, the winners of a schools’ competition to encourage more rail travel travelled on the train with MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman, authors of the Adventures on Trains books.

The Hydroflex train interior has been configured in boardroom style

for the COP26 events at Glasgow Central. (Network Rail)

Network Rail, which co-hosted that event with Porterbrook and publishers Macmillan, said: “Primary schoolchildren from Glasgow will joined the authors, along with engineers from Network Rail and Porterbrook, for a fun-packed literary journey where they were able to learn about the secrets of storytelling and how technology is powering rail’s green revolution in Britain.”

A Porterbrook spokesperson said: “During COP26, invited guests had the unique opportunity to enter the HydroChamber and explore the ground-breaking technology that will allow this train to use green hydrogen in self-powered mode. This will be the last opportunity to see inside the HydroChamber as immediately after the conference, the interior will have special safety containment walls fitted, prior to being fuelled and commissioned for hydrogen operation.”

Porterbrook said Hydroflex was the world’s first hydrogen train that could also run using overhead electric wires or batteries.

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