Young people enjoy glimpse of greener travel future as they take a ride on UK’s first hydrogen-fuelled train

A young rail user expresses why we should use rail as our first sustainable transport choice.

Members of Britain’s only youth community rail partnership were given a taste of revolutionary greener travel as they rode a hydrogen-fuelled train to and from Glasgow at COP26.

Young people involved with the 6VT Community Rail Partnership, based in Edinburgh, joined Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, aboard HydroFLEX, created by rail leasing firm Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham.

As Britain’s first mainline-approved hydrogen-train, HydroFLEX has been on display during the climate summit as part of the UK government’s plans to decarbonise rail travel by 2050.

While on board, 6VT members enjoyed a demonstration as to how the hydrogen technology works and took part in discussions around the importance of developing sustainable travel to combat the climate emergency. They also had the opportunity to experience a train-driving simulator at the Rail Delivery Group’s green and sustainable-themed stand at Glasgow Central Station.

Last month, the partnership, who are members of Community Rail Network and part of the growing community rail movement across Britain, marked the first-ever ‘Community Rail Week’ by taking a journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow. During their trip, members pledged to ‘Go Green by Train,’ writing letters to themselves containing personal changes they could make to become more environmentally friendly.

Community Network chief exec, Jools and members of 6VT Youth CRP about to board the HydroFLEX train

6VT member Daisy Fiennes said: “Going on the HydroFLEX train was a great experience. It’s incredible how like an ordinary train it is, yet so different. It’s amazing how people are working so hard to solve the climate crisis, and it’s so important that we do solve it, because there isn’t a planet B.”

Fiona Horne, operations manager at the 6VT Youth Café, where the community rail partnership is based, added: “6VT Youth CRP were delighted and privileged to be invited to experience a journey on the groundbreaking HydroFLEX train. Our young people got to hear and see first-hand how the train works. As passengers of the future, their hope is that this method of green travel will be part of the way forward.”

Transport has a huge role to play if the UK is to reach its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100% of 1990 levels, or ‘net zero’, by 2050. It is now the largest emitting sector in the UK, making up 27% of domestic emissions in 2019. Rail is already acknowledged as one of the greenest ways to travel, producing just 1% of transport emissions, and is getting greener all the time.

The £8million HydroFLEX project allows new hydrogen fuel systems to be installed on upcycled trains, providing a clean and renewable energy source. The train, which also welcomed Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson during COP26, is a tri-mode that can also run on electricity and battery power, all sources identified as having a role to play in decarbonising rail traction.

Alongside her Community Rail Network role, Jools was at COP26 as the chair of the Sustainable Transport Alliance, a group that brings together the UK’s leading sustainable transport organisations. The alliance’s ‘People make transport: communities enabling greener travel’ event highlighted the importance of drawing on community actions and voices, including those of young people, to place walking and cycling, public, community, and shared transport at the heart of climate ambitions.

She said: “It was fantastic to join members of 6VT aboard HydroFLEX, and to be able to talk to them about sustainable transport and the vital importance of green travel at a local and global level. COP26 has underlined how we must put people, communities, and justice at the forefront in tackling the climate crisis, and this very much applies to transport.

“Rail, combined with buses, walking, cycling, and shared mobility, provides a huge part of the solution: shifting as many journeys as we can onto these modes, and reducing private car use, can help us forge a more sustainable, healthy, inclusive future, which is particularly important for our younger generations.”