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All Aboard the U.K.'s First Hydrogen Train

HydroFlex signals a growing push for zero-emission rail technologies

3 min read
HydroFlex at a rail testing center in Warwickshire, England, in June 2019.
HydroFlex at a rail testing center in Warwickshire, England, in June 2019.
Gif: Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education/IEEE Spectrum

The United Kingdom’s first hydrogen fuel cell train rolled down the tracks this week, marking a milestone in the global push for greener transportation. Passengers climbed aboard the HydroFlex prototype as it ambled through the English countryside—without emitting any of the pollution that follows diesel locomotives.

HydroFlex is a joint initiative of the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) and Porterbrook, the British railway company. The team demonstrated the four-car train at a rail testing center in Warwickshire, where rail aficionados gathered for an industry event. Researchers say they plan to test HydroFlex on the main U.K. railway network later this year, with funding from the Department of Transport.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
Green

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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