Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough to benefit from new hydrogen-powered buses

Belfast’s Antrim Road “corridor” looks set to benefit from the first hydrogen-powered buses in Spring 2022, Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors have been told.

Monday, 10th May 2021, 9:28 pm

Translink has been providing an update to the borough council’s Policy and Governance Committee on plans for zero-emission public transport through  an investment £66m investment by the Department for Infrastructure and for a £42.7m Translink Future Ticketing System (TFTS).

Of the new fleet, 80 will be battery electric vehicles and 20 will be fuel cell electric buses. These will be kept on the road powered by hydrogen refuelling stations in depots and 80 charging points.

There will also be 45 low emissions buses for Ulsterbus services across Northern Ireland.

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New additions to the fleet.

Councillors were told that hydrogen-powered buses will be deployed first in the north Belfast area where there has been higher demand for public transport and growth in passenger numbers “pre-Covid”.

Hydrogen powered buses were also said to be more suited to a “slightly longer run”  covering a range of approximately 140 miles and can cover a “steady climb uphill”.

Electric battery buses are expected to be deployed elsewhere in the city with the “full conversion of the Holywood Road, Castlereagh Road  and Cregagh Road”and will be maintained and charged at Short Strand and Milewater Service Centre.

It is expected that the whole new fleet will be rolled out by 2030. Foyle Metro services in Londonderry are also expected to benefit from the zero emissions vehicles.

Councillors were also told that Translink is to purchase “modern and dynamic technology” to introduce a new integrated ticketing system to make it “easier for the public to buy and use tickets”.

Ticket vending machines will be provided at every halt in Belfast which will accept coins, notes and card payments and for the collection of tickets purchased online.

As part of the ticketing overhaul, a new ‘ePurse Smartcard’ will enable money to be loaded in advance of travel and will be fully integrated for use on all Translink and Metro services.

Glengormley DUP Alderman Phillip Brett commented that during Covid a policy of “no change given”  was introduced and he asked when it would “come to an end”.

He was told that the policy was still in place and is still being monitored.

He was advised that passengers are issued with a “change receipt”  which can be redeemed at a ticketing office and that there will be a “massive drop in cash handling” when the new ticketing system is introduced.

Ballyclare Ulster Unionist Councillor Norrie Ramsay asked if the new buses can be “maintained at the same speed as traditional buses”, if they could “haul up the Bellevue Hill” and if they could could go to “Londonderry and back”.

He was told that some roads would be more suitable for hydrogen buses than others with uphill routes draining a battery quicker than flatter routes and that with a 140 mile range, they could “run to Londonderry and back”.

Cllr Ramsey also asked about the safety of the onboard gas tank.

He was told that these buses are “designed with safety in mind” and tanks have been “bonfire tested” to ensure they do not explode.

Airport Ald Paul Michael BEM asked about the possibility of a rail halt at Belfast International Airport.

He was told that “scoping out opportunities for electrification” may be in the pipeline.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Sarah Simpson, Translink Business Change manager, said: “Three zero-emission hydrogen powered double-deck vehicles entered service with Metro late last year and have already been in operation on Metro routes, including in the Newtownabbey area.

“An additional 100 zero-emission buses, supplied by Wrightbus in Ballymena, will be introduced to the Metro fleet next year, helping us on our journey towards zero-emission public transport in Belfast by 2030 and across the entirety of our bus and rail fleet by 2040.

“This development further supports the ‘green’ recovery from the pandemic that our society needs, as well as tackling the climate emergency, improving air quality and delivering a healthier society.’’

David Graham, Translink Business Change manager, said: ‘‘We also took the opportunity to update members on the progress of our Translink Future Ticketing System, which will deliver a whole new range of ticketing options on our bus and rail services, including contactless payment, mobile and app payments and account-based ticketing.

“This will allow payment with debit/credit cards and ultimately provide a greater range of choice for passengers, making it easier for people to buy and use their tickets, thereby increasing the use of public transport.

“Work is underway to implement new on-bus ticketing machines on Metro and Ulsterbus vehicles and new ticketing mechanisms on NI Railways services, with roll-out on Metro and NI Railways scheduled for later this year.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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