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Hydrogen train could be trialled on Caithness line

By David G Scott

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A pressure group is pushing for a hydrogen-fuelled train to be run on the railway line between Wick and Thurso.

A specially converted electric Class 314 unit is to be showcased at the COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow next month and Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) hopes that trial runs can then take place in Caithness.

Ian Budd, FoFLN convenor, said: "We are hoping that once the Class 314 unit, which has been converted to hydrogen power, has finished its COP 26 demonstration at Bo'ness it will spend time on our Thurso-Wick line running a trial shuttle service between the towns.

"Initially it would run without passengers but it would make sense, once the safety tests are complete, for it to run a full passenger trial there."

The group has long hoped that a permanent shuttle between the towns can be established and the "best way to test demand" is to run a service for an extended period of a year or so. FoFLN is also keen that both battery and electric options are developed as quickly as possible.

Mr Budd continued: "At the moment battery provides the best option for shorter routes as the range is around 60 miles. Battery power is much more efficient than hydrogen and is able to deliver the power needed for rapid acceleration and ascending gradients.

"Hydrogen trains need a lot of space to contain the tanks and equipment but have a much longer range and are therefore more likely to be used on lines such as the Far North Line until we can afford the 'Swiss option' of 100 per cent overhead electrification which is by far the least wasteful of fuel and provides almost unlimited power."

A Class 230 battery train could be used between Wick and Thurso as part of a shuttle service as it has a range of 60 miles before needing to be recharged. The hydrogen trains are deemed by FoFLN to be more suited, over the long term, on the line between Inverness and Caithness.

Decarbonisation and sustainable development form part of Transport Scotland’s plans to phase out diesel trains from its network and deliver zero emission passenger railways by 2035. Large parts of the Scottish network have already been electrified as part of a rolling programme but – for remote routes where electrification is not economically viable – hydrogen and battery technology offer complimentary sources of power.

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