Mayor of the Tees Valley: Hydrogen Trains are getting the North’s Low-Carbon economy on track

Posted On: 
21st November 2018

Ben Houchen, Conservative Mayor of the Tees Valley writes about the potential of hydrogen powered trains which he says can help our railways become cleaner, greener and more reliable.

Ben Houchen, Conservative Mayor of the Tees Valley
Mayor of the Tees Valley

If you were asked what the biggest change you expect to see in our rail network over the coming years, you might suggest HS2 or even Northern Powerhouse Rail. My answer would be hydrogen powered trains. They’re not only able to solve a number of technical issues facing the rail network, as well as reducing pollution, but they’re already in operation in Germany so they can be deployed much sooner than other major upgrades.

Today diesel trains carry the burden in our rail network where electrification has to date been impossible or uneconomical. Hydrogen trains can address both of these issues, while simultaneously tackling health and environmental concerns around diesel trains.

The North of England needs an immediate and positive step change in our rail network. Northern Powerhouse Rail, formerly called HS3, will go a long way towards delivering this. It is, however, only part of the overall solution. Cutting journey times across the Pennines is important for communities on both sides, but better connectivity within regions and on other routes between them is vital.

So far this all sounds fantastic, but hydrogen powered trains won’t save the environment all by themselves. Hydrogen rail will be most effective as part of a wider, national decarbonisation agenda. Given the Tees Valley already produces half of the UK’s commercially available hydrogen and are progressing a serious proposal to build the National Hydrogen Centre in our region, we are ideally situated to lead this.

In my region and many others, the industries that have sustained us for decades need to significantly reduce their CO2 output if they are to meet the environmental targets of the coming decades. The scale of the challenge we face in this area may seem daunting, but when seen in the context of the global opportunity of decarbonisation, the skills that will allow us to deliver one will let us benefit from the other.

Hydrogen trains offer the same benefits to the wider UK that decarbonisation does in the Tees Valley. As our railways become cleaner, greener and more reliable, our railway industry in towns like Newton Aycliffe can survive and grow as the hydrogen rail industry grows worldwide.

The Government’s Industrial Strategy very rightly makes clean growth one of its Grand Challenges. Embracing hydrogen rail, as well as hydrogen cars, busses and public service vehicles can directly add an important string to the bow of this strategy by changing UK industry for the better, as well as meeting it’s more general requirements for good, high-productivity jobs.

Discussions are ongoing on the potential for hydrogen trials by Northern in the Tees Valley, possibly in the next three to four years. This, in addition to the work we’re doing on other areas of our future Hydrogen Economy and the innovations made by companies like Alstom, show the progress we are making in the UK and worldwide. With the right support from Government, we can deliver real benefits for business and industry, but also in terms of our environmental impact and people’s quality of life.