University of Birmingham start-up wins award for HydroFLEX hybrid train

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UK start-up, Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions, has been announced as winner of Best SME at the European Rail Clusters Initiative Innovation Awards for its work on the HydroFLEX train.

Left - right: Dirk-Ulrich Krüger Managing Director at Rail S Office; Alexander Burrows, CEO of Vanguard; and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Markus Hecht Technische Universitat
Left - right: Dirk-Ulrich Krüger Managing Director at Rail S Office; Alexander Burrows, CEO of Vanguard; and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Markus Hecht Technische Universitat

The award recognized Vanguard’s work on the development and commercialization of the hybrid hydrogen/battery traction power system used to retrofit diesel trains converting them to clean power.

The team at Vanguard were responsible for the design of the UK’s first mainline-approved hydrogen train, HydroFLEX, they are now working with the Severn Valley Railway to convert a shunter locomotive from diesel to hydrogen and have also developed a refueling system to enable rapid hydrogen fueling onto trains currently being utilized by Porterbrook to fuel the HydroFLEX train.

Founded in 2020 to commercialize their expertise in developing solutions to deploy hydrogen technology onto the railway, Vanguard is a spin out company from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE). Europe’s largest academic-based group that provides world-class research, education, and innovation to the global rail industry. Vanguard is also a member of the University’s BCRRE Rail Innovation Cluster, the UK member of the European Rail Clusters Initiative.

Alexander Burrows, CEO of Vanguard, said, “Railways across the world need to decarbonize and modernize cost-effectively and our solutions enable them to convert existing rolling stock from dirty diesel to zero-emission hydrogen/battery technology. By taking out emissions and re-using and modernizing existing trains, we are providing a cost-effective and more sustainable solution to deliver modern, reliable trains for passengers and freight.”

The ERCI Innovation Awards took place at Innotrans in Berlin to award prizes to the best European innovations in the railway industry from those companies who submitted applications, at Technology Readiness Level 6 or above, to the annual ERCI Railway Innovation Competition. The competition identifies the best innovation from both large enterprises and from small and medium enterprises.

Innovation cluster at BCRRE

Following the Vanguard award win, BCRRE unveiled a new Rail Innovation Cluster to support SMEs to deliver greater value and innovative capability in the rail supply chain, both in the UK and abroad.

Building on BCRRE’s many years of experience in assisting SMEs to enter the rail industry as startups or through diversification from other sectors, the cluster will focus on three core areas of activity: innovation, SMEs and international.

Burrows, in his role as BCRRE director of enterprise and innovation, added, “The BCRRE Rail Innovation Cluster is a crucial initiative that brings together our world-leading railway R&D capability at the university with our breadth of industry knowledge, experience and partnerships.”

GCRE agreement

Also at InnoTrans last week, BCRRE announced that it has signed an agreement with the Global Centre for Rail Excellence (GCRE) to partner on R&D and innovation activities on the site of the Welsh test center which is due to open in 2024.

The Global Centre for Rail Excellence was set up by the Welsh Government to establish the facility, in Neath Port Talbot. It aims to offer a ‘one stop shop’ for railway innovation from R&D, through testing and verification, to applied innovation on the mainline passenger and freight rail systems.