BRITAIN’S Severn Valley Railway, a heritage railway in Worcestershire and Shropshire, the University of Birmingham and local start-up Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions have launched the Harrier HydroShunter project to convert a diesel shunting locomotive to run on hydrogen traction.

Work is already underway at the heritage railway’s diesel depot at Kidderminster, near Birmingham, where a team of young volunteers are stripping down the Class 08 shunter. This includes removing the existing diesel engine and generators and overhauling other components, in preparation for the installation of the new power system in the coming months.

Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions is designing the hydrogen-battery hybrid traction system at the University of Birmingham, which will consist of hydrogen cylinders, a hydrogen fuel cell stack and a hybrid battery. The cylinders will store hydrogen as a pressurised gas, which will be fed to the fuel cell stack via a regulator. In the fuel cell stack, hydrogen will be combined with oxygen from the air, to produce electricity to power the locomotive. Meanwhile, the battery will store energy to provide additional power for when it is needed.

The equipment will be mounted on a sub-frame fitted to the existing engine mountings, and will supply the existing traction motors fitted in the Class 08, which will keep its existing controls.

Testing of the hydrogen-power shunter locomotive will take place at Severn Valley Railway later this year. The development of such technology is predicted to have a global significance, and the teams are working towards translating it to heavy-haul applications.

“As a heritage railway, we’re actively looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and having a hydrogen-powered shunter will play a key part in that plan,” says Severn Valley Railway vice-chairman, Mr Mike Ball. “The group working on the 08 are all still in their teens, and their ability to plan and implement this task has been nothing short of amazing. They’re the volunteers of the future, working on a locomotive for the future.”

“Vanguard has developed the HydroShunter to enable cost-effective retrofitting of diesel locomotives with clean, modern hydrogen-battery traction systems,” says Mr Charles Calvert, chief engineer at Vanguard Sustainable Transport Systems. “Using hydrogen produced from renewable electricity, the Harrier will be a clean and quiet locomotive that just happens to also be an innovation superstar at work on one of the UK’s leading heritage railways.”

The Severn Valley Railway has produced a short film on the conversion, which will be released on YouTube at 17.30 BST on April 23.