Local rail services that operate between Saltburn and Bishop Auckland, routed via Middlesbrough and Darlington, are set to become the first to use hydrogen-powered trains in Britain. A fleet of 10 Hydrogen Multiple Units (HMUs) are planned that will enable the timetable operating on the route to be converted in its entirety, with diesel-powered trains being displaced.

It was announced in November that the Rail Safety and Standards Board has started the necessary process to provide technical standards that will enable safety certification of the vehicles. As FCP has previously reported, development has been taking place by both the Porterbrook and Eversholt leasing companies involving the conversion of Electric Multiple Units.

As FCP reported in previous media articles, although it is a ground-breaking initiative in Britain, trains using hydrogen power have been in use in Germany on inter-urban routes in Lower Saxony since September 2018 using iLint trains built by Alstom. The fleet is being expanded to cover further routes and agreement has also been reached for a pilot scheme in the Netherlands where trains will be operated by Arriva.

Illustration of Eversholt owned
Class 321 EMU converted by Alstom

The supply of hydrogen is not plentiful in Britain but the process industries located in the Tees Valley currently manufacture more than 50% of the UK’s available supply providing a locally available resource to refuel trains. Depot facilities are required however, and two planning applications were made by Arriva Rail North in 2019 to provide equipment at Tees Yard and Lackenby. Since then the options have been refined and Lackenby has been made the preferred site as it is connected to a local hydrogen supply network as well as having suitable rail infrastructure.

Make-up of the Tees Valley Combined Authority

The Combined Authority was created in 2016 made up of the local authorities in the Tees Valley which resulted in the creation of an elected mayor for the area in 2017. The Conservative candidate Ben Houchen was chosen, which was unexpected given traditional political allegiances in the region.

The purpose of Combined Authorities is to allow a greater degree of devolved decision-making in areas such as transport and this has resulted in a rail development plan being created. Although the East Coast Main Line serves Darlington there has been little rail investment covering local routes and capacity is constrained by past simplification of the rail layout with single line operation and extended signalling headways.

Tees Valley service development

An initial plan for the development of rail services has been developed. Darlington is the hub from which local services operate and as at many locations the ability to run a greater frequency timetable is constrained by movement conflicts with the current infrastructure. The remedy is to re-model the layout on the eastern side of the trainshed to create local platforms that do not conflict with the increased frequency of main line trains calling at the station for which the Combined Authority has allocated funding of £25 million.

There are similar constraints at Hartlepool where current infrastructure is made up of a single through-line and one bay platform. Again £20 million funding has been provided to redevelop the station with Middlesbrough Council planning an improved concourse. The project will allow LNER to restore through services to London. The work to improve connectivity has also resulted in Trans Pennine Express extending trains previously terminating at Middlesbrough, on to Redcar which will provide a new hourly service to Manchester.

The Esk valley route between Whitby and Middlesbrough has had a history of neglect since cutbacks in the period of BR, to the extent that there was no service that arrived in Middlesbrough in time for travel to work journeys. This has been remedied from the start of the December 2019 timetable change with the introduction of two additional services that now make this possible.

There are more ambitious plans for the route which involve a new parkway station near Nunthorpe and a Strategic Outline Business Case is in the course of preparation. In making the case for investment, the Elected Mayor has said that the comparative isolation of smaller towns and coastal communities in the North East must be addressed in future transport planning.

FCP is active in the development of alternative clean-fuels for rolling stock, including our work with Gas-To-Liquid products, in addition to a range of environmental and sustainability projects, hydrogen distribution and deployment.

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