Hydrogen in Wales - ASLEF Response

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ASLEF is pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this important consultation on the future of hydrogen power in Wales. ASLEF is encouraged that the Welsh Government is considering a range of initiatives, including hydrogen power, in order to further decarbonisation which is an essential element of tacking the climate crisis.

ASLEF's response to the Welsh Government consultation on Developing the Hydrogen energy sector in Wales

April 2021

  1. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is the UK’s largest train drivers’ union representing over 21,000 members in train operating companies and freight companies as well as London Underground and light rail systems. We represent around 650 members in Wales.

  2. ASLEF is pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this important consultation on the future of hydrogen power in Wales. ASLEF is encouraged that the Welsh Government is considering a range of initiatives, including hydrogen power, in order to further decarbonisation which is an essential element of tacking the climate crisis.

  3. As a rail-specific union, we will be responding only to the section of the consultation regarding the use of hydrogen power for rail.

  4. The consultation paper includes several examples of projects using hydrogen power for passenger rail that have been developed in the UK. Alstom’s ‘Coradia iLint’ train was the first hydrogen-powered train to be in passenger services. It has been in service in Germany since 2018, has recently entered service in Austria and is being tested in the Netherlands and the UK.

  5. ASLEF agrees that exploring hydrogen power for rail is an important element of the work to decarbonise transport. It is, however, important that both trials and implementation of this type of traction follow some basic principles in order to be fit for purpose.

  6. ASLEF is the representative union for train drivers and has campaigned for many years for safe, secure and comfortable driving cabs. A comfortable cab is a health and safety essential: if a driver is not comfortable, distracted by extreme temperatures, or struggling to reach controls, they are less able to concentrate on driving the train.

  7. Some of the projects to develop hydrogen trains have seen rolling stock companies and manufactures repurposing existing units and changing the traction to hydrogen power. While this is a reasonable strategy in terms of reducing cost and waste, it is not appropriate for these units to be brought back into service without due consideration paid to the in-cab environment either for the driver or in the passenger saloon. ASLEF’s first responsibility is to our members and their safety, and we would not support any hydrogen powered train with an old and unsuitable cab when modern alternatives are tried, tested and readily available.

  8. It is widely recognised that electrification of the rail network would deliver near zero carbon operation. In Wales there are several clear opportunities for electrification projects to have this impact, including the Great Western line west of Cardiff, and the North Wales line to the Port of Holyhead. ASLEF is in favour of a full, rolling programme of electrification for rail in Britain and remains in favour of electrifying these lines as soon as the resources are available. We are aware that UK Government funding is required and that the Welsh Government is also in favour of this.

  9. In its recently published Llwybr Newydd transport strategy, the Welsh Government stated objectives including full electrification of the railway as a key element of decarbonising transport. ASLEF would not wish for the Welsh Government to see hydrogen as an alternative to this goal; hydrogen can provide solutions where electrification remains unlikely or unviable.

  10. We agree that the Cambrian line as a trial line for hydrogen trains in Wales is the right option based on the current traffic types and levels on this line.

  11. Hydrogen production must also be as sustainable as possible, so ASLEF would want to see clean hydrogen production alongside any future rollout of hydrogen-powered trains in Wales.

  12. While hydrogen has been proven to be a suitable power source for passenger rail, it is clear that this will not be a solution for high-speed rail or for freight trains which are much heavier and therefore require more power. The recently-published Llwybr Newydd transport plan highlighted the benefits of rail freight in Wales and, alongside Wales’ industrial strategy, rail freight has a key role to play in decarbonising industry. It is therefore important to also acknowledge the need to keep considering electrification, especially if - as part of the implementation of the proposals in Llwybr Newydd - freight may return to the Cambrian line.

  13. ASLEF is supportive of all efforts to decarbonise transport in Wales, and look forward to working alongside the Welsh Government on future traction projects, including ensuring that train cabs are modern, safe and suitable.

  14. While hydrogen power is an important element of decarbonisation strategies, it is by no means a silver bullet and must not be used as a reason not to support as much electrification of the rail network as possible.