British Trains To (Maybe) Make Way For Steam Once More

There’s nothing more guaranteed to excite a grizzled old railway enthusiast than the sight of a steam locomotive. The original main-line rail propulsion technology still clings on in a few places, but for practical purposes, it disappeared a lifetime ago. It’s interesting then to hear of a brand new steam locomotive prototype being considered for revenue freight use on British metals. Is it yet another rebuild of a heritage design to be used for enthusiasts only? No, it’s an entirely new design with nothing in common with the locomotives of the past, as [Terrier55Stepney] tells us in the video below the break.

Gone is the huge boiler and reciprocating pistons of old, as indeed is the notion of boiling anything. Instead, this is a steam turbine, nothing like the 1920s and 30s experiments with conventional locomotives, nor even the Union Pacific’s oil-fired condensing turbo-electrics. The new idea here from the British company Steamology is to create steam directly from the combustion of hydrogen in a series of small modular steam generators, and the resulting prototype turbo-generator will replace the diesel engine in a redundant British Rail class 60 freight locomotive. It’s unclear whether it will incorporate a condenser, but since it has no need to retain the water for a boiler we’re not sure it would need one.

Prototype locomotives featuring new technologies have a long and inglorious history of not making the grade, so while this is definitely an exciting and interesting development we’re not guaranteed to see it in widespread use. But it could offer a way to ensure a low-carbon replacement for diesel heavy freight locomotives, and unexpectedly provide engine upgrades for existing classes. The fact it’s technically a steam locomotive is incidental.

BR Class 60: Tutenkhamun Sleeping, CC BY 2.0.

72 thoughts on “British Trains To (Maybe) Make Way For Steam Once More

      1. It really, really isn’t.

        It’s absurdly dangerous due to hydrogen embrittlement. Then there’s the fact that the only economical source of hydrogen is natural gas steam reforming that dumps tons of CO2 in the air.

        If you start talking about using electricity to split water? Lithium batteries are cheaper and massively more efficient.

    1. I’d be willing to bet a rather substantial amount it will – not quickly necessarily but hydrogen is so readily available universally, burns clean (if you even burn it rather than fuel cell), creates potentially nothing at all but water as a byproduct and has decent refill time and energy density. The upsides are so huge compared to the alternatives at some point it is going to happen, even if it won’t really become as normal as Alkaline battery have been for a prolonged period.

      And for something like a locomotive it can easily happen now – a railway is a big enough consumer of fuel at a few very specific locations it is economically viable to transition to shipping a new fuel around to the few points the locomotives get filled up (same for aircraft), but they are not such a big consumer that actually creating the supply of hydrogen is impossible. Leaving only the challenge of hydrogen storage, but for a locomotive where a thick walled pressure vessel can easily fit and it makes almost no difference how much it weighs (in many ways heavier the locomotive is the better). So for those places where direct electric drive locomotives are impractical or even impossible this should work out quite well, at least if they can get the efficiency from it.

      1. It’s only ever going to be used for extremely niche applications, because the energy density of hydrogen is terrible. Even liquid hydrogen only reaches about a quarter of the energy density of diesel fuel, and liquid hydrogen is terrible to handle and distribute.

        And the refill time with high pressure compressed hydrogen tanks is limited by compression heating. The tanks are made of composite materials to avoid embrittlement and diffusion leakage, so you’re limited by the rate that you can cool the hydrogen down as you compress it into the tank – otherwise the binder in the composite turns soft and the tank ruptures. This also gives the tanks a similar cycle life and “lifetime under compression” limit as batteries have, because the mechanical stress cycling on the material is limited.

        Plus, in this application they also have to carry liquid oxygen along, because they’re proposing to combust the hydrogen with pure O2 instead of air to get the steam. That’s even more inconvenient and costly, and dangerous to boot if you have a crash and the oxygen container spills.

        1. Energy density isn’t everything, in many cases its almost entirely irrelevant, plus Fuelcell systems at least have the potential to be vastly more efficient than ICE which helps balance that out anyway. Then you get the benefits of not producing toxic clouds out the back and that the fossil fuel industry as it stands can’t last forever – At some point even if you ignore fossil fuels other downsides there won’t be any more to extract and if you are making synth fuel in most cases Hydrogen is both easier and improves the air quality at point of use. Rather hard to argue with that in a general sense, though I do expect synthetic Petrol/Diesel is also part of the future, and probably a larger part than Hydrogen in the nearer future – transitions take time and for another 100 odd years there will still be ‘classic’ vehicles on the roads I’d expect..

          So hydrogen as a core part of the economy I’d say is a certainty in the not too distant future, as unlike fusion that is always 20 years from actually working at all practically, and much much further from being useful for anything more than a static power station hydrogen is a very functional and flexible energy source that does just work. And the obvious places to start rolling it out are places that use lots of fuel in and around people like trains and buses as you don’t need to roll out an entirely new filling station and distribution network.

          1. >Fuelcell systems at least have the potential to be vastly more efficient than ICE

            Big diesels are pretty much at par with fuel cells – or slightly better overall – and they can be converted to run on liquid or compressed methane which is much easier to contain and carries much more energy for the volume than hydrogen, and methane is the logical thing to make out of renewable power in order to transport it anywhere because it won’t leak out of a pipeline.

            And you’re still forgetting that the proposed device is also carrying oxygen to get steam rather than wet air out of it. That’s a whole other set of complications.

          2. The big elephant in the room with the “hydrogen economy” is that making hydrogen isn’t equally viable everywhere. It’s cheap in some places with concentrated and reliable wind/solar resources, or geothermal power, etc. but the problem becomes transporting it over long distances.

            That’s where the energy density really kills hydrogen, and its tendency to leak out of every container or pipe, and its tendency to explode violently… in order to trade hydrogen between countries effectively, it has to be turned into something that is easier to store and move around, and it’s not a big leap to convert the hydrogen you made into some simple hydrocarbon like methane or ethylene. Those are also useful and in demand for other stuff, so you get a better price out of it.

            Hydrogen serves as a good feedstock for all sorts of things, but it’s just not practical directly as a fuel.

          3. >you don’t need to roll out an entirely new filling station and distribution network.

            The existing gas grid and gas distribution systems cannot handle pure hydrogen or even a mixture with more than 30% in, so you do need all new filling stations and distribution networks for it.

            Converting hydrogen into methane right where it is produced allows it to be put directly into the existing distribution system. Having methane is the first step to a lot of other stuff, like ammonia or plastics, so it’s a much more valuable commodity than plain hydrogen – and also easier to use as a fuel.

          4. Dude there is a big difference between this specific example and a Hydrogen economy in general, you don’t need to be able to trade it globally for it to be a big part of a future economy. Most power resources are not traded that far anyway, crude oil is about the only ‘fuel’ that tends to be transported significant distances, the refined products of it don’t tend to be shipped very far at all, so that isn’t really a big difference for Hydrogen.

            >The existing gas grid and gas distribution systems cannot handle pure hydrogen or even a mixture …

            I know that is why I said bus and train make sense – as they are fuelled at a tiny number of places – its not a whole new network nation wide to build its a handful of filling stations and some transport from where the fuel is made (assuming it isn’t made at the filling station – which it can be). Nothing against synthetic fuel as a concept, but why have the nasty dangerous to health emissions from the stuff you can transition to hydrogen relatively easily.

          5. > you don’t need to be able to trade it globally for it to be a big part of a future economy

            Yes you do. It would even be nice if you could haul it to the next city in meaningful amounts without breaking the bank:

            “Taking into account the cost and safety factors, the pressure of hydrogen is normally kept at between 20 and 50 MPa, which means that one truck can transport 200–1000 kg of hydrogen.”

            A kilogram of hydrogen is roughly equivalent to a gallon of gasoline in energy content. The difference is, a fuel truck can carry 10,000 gallons of gasoline or diesel, so you would need to run 10-50 times the number of trucks to haul hydrogen around if you wanted to burn it for fuel. This could be better if you loaded with liquid hydrogen, but then you have the same problem as cement trucks: you’re running against the clock because the hydrogen is boiling and you can’t put a cork on it.

            This is why hydrogen is produced at the site it is consumed at, if at all possible.

          6. > crude oil is about the only ‘fuel’ that tends to be transported significant distances

            And natural gas, and coal, and uranium, and wood/biofuel/waste…

            Sweden actually imports waste from the UK, Norway, Italy, and Ireland to provide power and heat for 1.5 million people. They’re buying nearly a million metric tonnes every year, and it gets shipped by boat and rail. Otherwise they’d be burning oil or coal, or chopping down all their forests.

          7. > but why have the nasty dangerous to health emissions

            That’s not the fault of the fuel, but the engine; most importantly the arbitrary fuel economy regulations put on engines that demand very high compression ratios that result in the production of nitrogen dioxides. It’s perfectly possible to make a clean running gasoline or diesel engine with modern technology, but it wouldn’t pass EU regulations for CO2/km.

          8. Also, other sources of nasties:

            Ethanol blended fuel – it produces Acetaldehyde which causes smog and asthma. Methanol in fuel is even worse because it makes Formaldehyde. The requirement to blend different stuff to gasoline to reduce the CO2 impact makes it difficult to optimize engines to burn it cleanly.

          9. Most of this piddling about distribution, international sales, and portability are moot anyway. We need international sales for fossil fuels because they mainly occur in countries where they aren’t used. Hydrogen can be produced everywhere at the point of refueling a vehicle. With that its portability and distribution becomes much less of an issue since it doesn’t have to be carted several times around different continents to be refined and then used.

          10. Dude if you really really desperately must trade energy and must have hydrogen a huge distance away given anywhere you want power you will already have water (people kind of require it, and almost all of human driven energy consumption has people on the doorstep) you can transmit the energy at much greater efficiency than shipping any material fuel and then make the Hydrogen near the user. Which probably means almost no new infrastructure at all – Assuming your transmission grid is remotely capable of actually handling the peak load it is put under there is a huge headroom across the day to ship the electric, water volumes consumed are not all that likely to put pressure on the supply pipes (though given how drought prone or under invested some areas are for fresh water using the drinking water supply…).

            And I’m not disagreeing with you that Methane makes sense as an option, but even if you assume Methane is The One, The Only Fuel of the future a remotely plausible method of creating it in volume ends up with a hydrogen element anyway (eventually it absolutely must anyway). And that would be a hydrogen economy at least in large part, as you are not going to waste effort making methane for all the users – A hydrogen economy doesn’t have to be pure hydrogen any more than a fossil fuel economy is all Coal or Oil based, and just because much of the world can/can’t make great use of something doesn’t stop it being the right choice for many others. If that was the case then all the Nuclear and Hydro power would never be built, or they somehow don’t count… Otherwise even if you needed the dam for drinking water anyway you’d not be able to make use of it by that argument.

          11. Fuel cells are not carnot-limited, but presently the good hydrogen fuel cells are about half efficient, which is comparable to the best engines, and loses versus the nearly full efficiency of batteries. If it’s produced by water electrolysis, there goes about half again, so that the efficiency is already down to one-fourth. That’s not going to cut it.

            You can still beat a typical ice car in normal usage with that, although not in the peak/ideal case with some modern engines. But hydrogen doesn’t seem like it is very close to solidly beating a good diesel-electric, nor a power plant and batteries. If we discover that we can pump the stuff out of the ground like oil/gas, or produce it without CO2 emissions very very easily, more easily than building and charging batteries with the same energy? Sure, maybe then.

            We could maybe get into doing a lot of methane / other fuel cracking so we got access to the fossil energy without the co2 production. But if we want any kind of fuel cell take up some of the uses that are currently filled by combustion engines, it could very well end up being made to use existing fuels either directly or indirectly rather than having the transport step be transporting the hydrogen itself.

        2. But for a train it’s easy to carry along an extra car or three for fuel. Traditional steam engines nearly always had an extra car for fuel and water. Of course, dragging the extra cars will lower the efficiency but decrease the refueling time as empty cars could be cut off and full ones coupled on.

          1. At safe pressures and volumes, hydrogen takes at least 10 times as much space.

            Meanwhile, a small commuter train may be only five cars long, including the locomotive, so spending even one car for the fuel tank would be a significant reduction in capacity or a significant increase in cost if you add an extra car for it.

          2. If your train is going to be hauling an extra car for fuel, then it makes more sense for that fuel to be electricity in a container of modern batteries.

        3. 1 gallon of petrol (gasoline) is equivalent to 14 sticks of dynomite, so ICE vehicles are dangerous now, as we use them ,often eith 10 gallons held in the tanks.

      2. Been there for Telecom where the concept pushed was to replace diesel generators with Hydrogen Fuel Cells. We end up with lots of high pressure cylinders that even in generous quantities (and space) can only support a run time that competes with batteries (8 to 12 hours of 5 to 10kW load). Given a disaster scenario that created the utility power outage, can a hydrogen transport company get to the site when required to replace empty cylinders? Probably not citing “road safety concerns”. So we look at Methanol, as a liquid it contains hydrogen in a much denser format. Ballard had a 60/40 Methanol/Water mix that was provided by a multinational German company. 1L/kWh was required and consumed, so a 500L tank could provide a week for 5kW load (which is small!). The liquid gets evaporated and then a catalyst separates the Hydrogen for the Fuel cell. Any impurities would foul the evaporator. Have to have your own “fuel dump” with contractors ready to deliver on demand. Liquid Ammonia is also under consideration and has a large distribution network in the farming community. What is Telecom using today? More diesel! Solar can help for smaller sites, but is not viable for urban locations for the amount of power (and availability) required. NG is available on roof tops in most urban locations. Compressed NG for locomotives? Hydrogen… Maybe for a yard shunter, not a road unit. Just saying… storage is the biggest impediment for Hydrogen.

        1. Looking at the way things are going in the world, and the rate of change most nations are desiring I’d like to think I’ll live long enough to have clearly won – should have a large handful of decades left if the average lifespan here holds true for me. But it is certainly possible I won’t as I’m certainly not expecting a clear win in the very near term.

          Or of course Humanity can have another and more terminal case of the stupid to render the whole idea pointless first…

      3. Hydrogen is to difficult to deal with. It embrittles metal. It’s hard to contain. It’s bulky to store. It damages the ozone layer when it leaks.

        It’s a pipe dream that will never happen.

      4. Yeah the space shuttle main engines were steam powered too!

        The stories i want to read are the ones about hydrogen becoming cheaper to manufacture, transport, and store than electricity. Burning it or using it in a fuel cell is kind of old news.

    2. “Stop trying to make [the hydrogen economy] happen. It’s not going to happen.”

      Interesting sentence, you could apply that to anything you don’t like and if you’d shout it loud enough you might be right although perhaps not for the right reasons. Sure it has it’s challenges, but what doesn’t, we just need to think different about how to do make it work. Investing in huge/expensive/complicated battery technologies isn’t the answer to our problem either. The best solution would be to go back to basics, rewind the clock 500 years, stop using energy in the quantities that we do, but somehow humanity isn’t ready to do a step backwards and to be honest, I like progress. But saying that “It’s not going to happen” isn’t very constructive, is it?

        1. An interesting development is coming where hydrogen is liberated from plastic waste without pyrolysis in a clean green method, out of a 5kg batch approx 97% of the hydrogen is released leaving the carbon as mwcnt this equals nearly 20 cubic metres of gas every 3 mins

        2. Drought-stricken developing countries will produce it through electrolysis. They’re working hard on decarbonizing their grid but in the meantime the electrolysis is powered by oil and gas. In the meantime while electrolysis plants get up and running, hydrogen extracted in oil and gas operations will be used. In the meantime, while the oil and gas industry works hard on capturing hydrogen, current manufacturers of hydrogen will create it using the current technique of partially burning oil and gas.

          You may think this process will take many decades but my friends at Suncor assure me it’ll be done by 2030

          1. You know, you could just burn the fuel and use it. Or use the electricity directly instead of using it for electrolysis. The UK already has a network of electric rail lines. This problem is essentially solved.

            Of course you can’t access that sweet research grant money if you don’t put in some effort, but the result doesn’t have to actually work.

          2. @Andrew You do realise the UK also has large areas of Network Rail’s patch that are not and not likely to ever be electrified – the third rail is a stupid idea in some places, really works great with the swampy and flood prone locations. While the alternative overhead catenary can be problematic too – in part because it wears more and is really expensive to build in the first place, but also all those small tunnels and bridges etc that don’t leave room for the pickups or would force the train to be even smaller physically. UK loading gauge is already laughably small, that compromise just can’t be made and the cost to increase that loading gauge is astronomical and thanks to Mr Beeching not viable either as the months the work would take would be entirely crippling to the commuters as in most cases there are no good alternate routes, and as HS2 rather proves actually building a new rail line is virtually impossible to get past the NIMBY, and far from cheap to build.

            A locomotive like this is useful, even essential even in a nation that has a largely directly electric rail network. There will always be places it is either not worth the cost or entirely impractical to electrify but you still want a rail service. So you need one that carries its own fuel.

          3. Since it’s a train it can carry a giant battery. Recharging is as simple as replacing the battery car. No hydrogen. No pressure. No escape. No embrittlement. Electricity can be delivered anywhere and can be used anywhere. Hydrogen is, literally, a non-starter.

            My solar railway (a subtle refinement of the ill-fated and obviously flawed solar roadway) is a much better idea. I am accepting grant money, donations, and investment now. Get in on the ground floor, this is heading for the stratosphere!

    3. It probably won’t happen in your car, and it probably won’t happen in your heating boiler. But it might happen in industrial situations, which is why we cover these stories. We’re not trying to make it happen, we’re just covering the tech.

      1. Exactly. With Europe shooting itself in the head as far as fossil fuels go, I think this is a very viable idea for bulk transport…especially freight. Now if the UK can just manage to get rail maintenance back in-house under the gov, this can work…cheaply and reliably. Would sort out a lot of problems if the rail system can return to its hay-day…and not just in the UK. Who cares if it is not the latest virtue-signalling tech…as long as it reliably fulfills its function.

        1. IMO the biggest problem with the Trains in the UK is the cost is so stupidly high. The network isn’t as good as it has been, but trains still run reasonably reliably to most places. However when it costs more to buy a train ticket than it does to drive and park in the most expensive carpark for a day or two in many cases, and often as it is not door to door the train won’t actually be any faster total travel time either…

        2. Synthetic fuels.
          It’s a stop gap whilst we wait for these minimum 30x nuclear power plants we need to build here to make any 100% electric system work..

          But no, we’d rather change everything so y’all have to pay for everything once again.
          Or else how will billionaires make more money?

      2. This is an excellent rationale for covering the Hydrogen Ladder ( )

        Which is about summarizing the use-cases proposed for Hydrogen and the most likely alternative, organized by how economically efficient hydrogen is compared to that alternative.

        The bottom rungs of the ladder (including
        Remote/rural rail) are where hydrogen loses to electric battery-based solutions.

    4. Yeah it’s an extremely forced set of mediocre technologies that is basically an industrial complex trying to spin a lucrative new market out of thin air by insincerely harping on ecological concerns. It’s all very blatant, and shocking that so many people are taken in

      1. “extremely forced set of mediocre technologies”
        “basically an industrial complex trying to spin a lucrative new market out of thin air”

        ehmmm… the motor car also started as a mediocre technology… every technology is (especially when looking back) mediocre at some point, but an improvement required to get forward.
        Fossil fuels are extreme lucrative, if things aren’t lucrative things won’t happen, that’s the way our society works, other systems claim to be better but have many negative side effects.

        “insincerely harping on ecological concerns”
        Wasn’t the motor car the best way to get rid of the horse shit problem from the streets. the motor car evolved because in the end it was cheaper to own a car than a horse.

        “It’s all very blatant, and shocking that so many people are taken in”
        Looking back the same applies to the motor car.

        What are you exactly trying to say here? That progress should be stopped, if your grandfather would have said that and succeeded in getting his way, we’d all be walking and riding horses. And this entire comment section would most likely be fought out using letters carried by pigeons. Get over it, accept that changes happen and rest assured, that change doesn’t stop next week, it keeps evolving into something better eventually (or into something that makes the world explode, but then we’d have to start all over).

        1. Um, if we had stopped progress then we would still be riding horses and we wouldn’t be needing to find solutions to the problems caused by the motor car which are being delivered to us by the same types of people that brought us the motor car.

          And why you automatically seem to think that change delivers a better scenario?
          Change often brings disaster. Societal change. Social media too.

          Consequences. No one ever really thinks about them.
          See there is no chance of having pragmatic discussion about what we should do.
          No. Instead of digging up fossil fuels and burning them, we need to dig up rare earths and refine them.
          Obviously one of these is more green…. obviously we are told this…

    5. I think it’s stupid for passenger cars and most trucks because of the infrastructure implications and a few other details, but for stuff like ships, trains, even buses and some trucks it could actually make sense.

      It’s far easier to have a bulk hydrogen supply at a port or depot, these things tend to refuel in bulk, and a bit of added weight or space doesn’t necessarily matter too much especially if you’re saving money on fuel and/or being incentivised to clean up your act.

      1. I’m curious, why? I’m an electronic engineer and thermodynamics is not my strong point. But why do you need to recover heat in an engine where it’s not heat that is creating the steam? Please, expand my understanding of the topic.

        1. A condenser is essentially pulling a strong vacuum on the outlet of the turbine because liquid water takes something like 500 times less volume than steam. There are entire engines made to operate solely on this principle, like the Newcomen’s atmospheric engine where the condensation of steam was used to drive a piston.

          The effect improves the pressure ratio of the turbine by a considerable amount, which is why there’s pretty much no steam turbine in a power plant that doesn’t have a condenser these days. In old compound steam engines, the improvement was easily 30-50% saving in fuel vs. just exhausting the steam away.

        1. Of course it doesn’t work if your condenser is open to atmospheric pressure. That defeats the whole point. The way it works in a steam locomotive, the engine actively pumps the water out of the condenser and back into the boiler to be re-used. Some power is lost in the pumping, but the gains in efficiency are far greater.

          Even if the pump squirted the water overboard into the bushes, the condenser would still pull a vacuum on the engine and give you an efficiency boost. It doesn’t have to be a closed loop in that sense.

        2. Note that the proposal isn’t a Brayton cycle. It’s Rankine cycle: it’s burning hydrogen and oxygen to generate steam rather than burning hydrogen in air to make hot damp air. It doesn’t have an intake compressor at all.

          A Rankine cycle turbine is more efficient than a Brayton turbine for the same input temperature, but the Brayton turbine can be operated at higher temperatures, so it catches some of the efficiency penalty back – but only if you can and want to run it hot enough.

          What makes the engine “zero emissions” is the fact that they aren’t combusting air – so no nitrogen dioxides can be produced.

    1. No matter how you do it (and there are actually safe ways to do it), nuclear fuel is very much not cheap. Both in absolute terms (huge minimum expenditure, but you get 18 months between refuelings), and in cost-per-kw.

      Another factor is that, for most useful nuclear fuels, you’ve got 18 months to use the energy or lose it, which is why nuclear power facilities run as close to 100% load as possible. Your costs don’t really go down even if you leave everything idled, and the fuel is decaying whether or not you use it.

      If you do it the safe way, you could mostly bypass the risks of abuse or “security hazards”, but that reduces how much power you can get out of a given-size generator, and also increases the cost of fuel needed to generate a given amount of power (or heat).

  1. There are great low-carbon replacements for diesel locomotives. It’s called catenary systems, they were around for decades on a good portion of the US lines until efforts in dieselification pushed them away, and catenary systems still dominate or are the only option in many other countries. Steam turbines have been tried time and time again and hydrogen generation is just not efficient, and turning combusted hydrogen into steam rather than direct conversion to electricity is just overly complicated. Put up overhead cables, generate electricity in a much more efficient powerplant, and put the electricity down the nearly globally standard 25kV overhead system. Job done. It’s tried and true technology to the extreme but why not just reinvent the wheel.

  2. This feels like one of those projects they’ll throw some cash at just to pretend they shouldn’t just be getting on with electrifying the whole railway network in some boring sensible way.

    But then our new government is going to be re-nationalising the railways so maybe we’ll see some sensible stuff happen… not sure I’d be holding my breath though, someone will find a way to cock it up.

    1. Its always a gamble with nationalized industries. You’re either stuck with the habit of governments being too cheap to hire the best and brightest which leaves you with mediocre and unimaginative, or biding the work out to the “cheapest” contractor. I don’t think anyone is going to let Lucas Electrical forget its legacy of vehicle fires.

      On the flip side, you have the Boeing conundrum where their merger with McDonnell Douglas brought in a culture of cutting corners, padding out billing hours, and graft. Which has killed a lot of people to date.

      In either case, electrifying the whole system is the right way to go in the U.K. I think. Independent power is all well and good when you have long stretches of unsupported infrastructure like huge swaths of the U.S. or central Asia. But most of the U.K. rail network is relatively close to everything else isn’t it? They may be better off installing smaller, more flexible, nuclear reactors adjacent to the rail lines. Still “steam powered” I guess, just not directly.

      1. In the UK its not the distance to electrify its the existing infrastructure and environment that gets you in trouble.

        Can’t put a third rail down on the lines that get blasted by the sea or otherwise flood fairly regularly, and many of those zones are the ones that would connect to the existing 3rd rail system. And while overhead wires can and are done in places you can’t do them under all the existing low bridges and tunnel easily..

        Much of the UK’s rail network is electric, but the stuff that isn’t won’t all be easy to do, and in many cases probably not economically viable either with how little use the rail network gets (it is really needing some support to get the ticket prices down). Though I’m sure there is still low hanging fruit – the existing railways have not seen that much investment for a long time. But as there are a few variety of electrification schemes any train crossing zones poses challenges. So I don’t think the UK is going to move away from Diesel for a good long while unless the test vehicles like this one prove the concept well enough to get the investment and become the new replacement.

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