An innovative hydrogen train project led by the University of St Andrews has successfully completed its next phase of testing and is on track to help the Scottish Government meet its ambitious Net Zero carbon targets.

The project is a partnership between the University of St Andrews, Transport Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Ballard Motive Solutions, Abbott Risk Consulting, ARUP, Aegis and Angel Trains.

Testing of the hydrogen-powered train took place at the Scottish Rail Preservation Society located in Bo’ness last month, which included a series of workshops to define the future strategy for rail decarbonisation in Scotland and provided demonstration runs of the train with key stakeholders and project partners.

The project entailed the conversion and re-use of a 40-year-old three-car Class 314 train to a hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrain. The ex-Class 314 train has been re-tractioned and reclassified as a Class 614 hydrogen-powered train. Testing on track and the engineering development required to implement the conversion has kickstarted the growth of a critical skills base for hydrogen trains in Scotland.

Green hydrogen produced from the on-site electrolyser connected to the temporary refueller played a key role during the demonstration of the project. Refuelling infrastructure and its location will be critical to future train deployments. The funding support from Angel Trains for the electrolyser was pivotal to delivering a train running on green hydrogen.

This innovative project has driven a huge amount of learning from converting existing rail rolling stock and has shown how this can create new supply chain opportunities and skills for the emerging green economy, while reducing emissions from the Scottish rail sector. The Scottish Government has set a target date to decarbonise passenger rail transport by 2035.

University of St Andrews Quaestor and Factor, Derek Watson, said: “The University of St Andrews is leading the way in the transition to green energy. The hydrogen train project is a demonstration of our commitment to our own ambitious Net Zero targets and is a real demonstration of the collaborative approach and partnership working for societal benefit.”

The University of St Andrews has set an ambitious target of being net zero by 2035 and is placing sustainability at the heart of its Strategy.

Gerry Agnew, Director, Hydrogen Accelerator and Senior Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, said: “This Hydrogen Accelerator project is providing invaluable intellectual collateral that will inform future phases for the decarbonisation of the rail network and play a critical role in helping Scotland achieve its Net Zero targets.

“Testing and demonstrating the train was the next steps in showing that the clean energy transition is a reality. The project is on target to deliver the critical understanding and knowledge to make hydrogen-powered rail a reality in the not-too-distant future.”

“This project is a best-practice example of government, academia and industry working together to take an ecosystem view of the benefits of carbon-neutral technology,” said Dr Ben Todd, CEO, Ballard Motive Solutions.

“We are delivering a converted hydrogen-powered train in a live rail environment – including an advanced pre-production engineering design and green hydrogen infrastructure – while developing supply chain capability and new, green jobs. Hydrogen traction power offers a safe, reliable, and zero-carbon alternative for Scotland’s rail network.

“The hydrogen train project has been an excellent opportunity for industry leaders in hydrogen, rail engineering and safety to collaborate with Scottish technology providers to develop a deployment-ready solution.”

The Chair of the Hydrogen Accelerator, Professor John Irvine from the School of Chemistry at St Andrews added: “Hydrogen has a very important role in seeking to address climate change. It is essential to show that it can be implemented in real applications at scale. The achievements of our team in delivering a smoothly operating train is an excellent exemplar of hydrogen technology and its capabilities, which is also critically informing our progress to removing fossil fuelled trains from our railways.”

The project has demonstrated that Scotland has the capability to modify existing rolling stock into hydrogen-powered trains, playing a critical role in the climate challenge. It has also identified some of the very significant safety and operability challenges associated with implementing hydrogen propulsion on rolling stock that was designed to standards in place 40 years ago.

Hydrogen trains can be the key enabler for the large-scale production of green hydrogen and the distribution of refuelling infrastructure across Scotland, building the Scottish supply chain pivotal to the future green economy.