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Wrightbus boss eyes all- island green transport plan



Green ambition: Jo Bamford

Green ambition: Jo Bamford

Green ambition: Jo Bamford

THE new owner of manufacturer Wrightbus says 12,000 buses on the island of Ireland as well as trains could be replaced with hydrogen engines to usher in a new era of environmentally friendly transport.

"Say you have 12,000 buses on the island," said Jo Bamford, executive chairman of the historic bus-builder.

"My plan is to decarbonise all buses and all trains.

"Though to fill them up with hydrogen, you need to put money down to build infrastructure.

"Wouldn't it be amazing to have some green solutions coming out of this?"

He said that his vision for an all-Ireland hydrogen strategy would result in cross-Border transport such as the Enterprise train from Belfast to Dublin running on hydrogen - which can power longer journeys than battery power.

He said that ultimately, all trains and buses would be decarbonised.

He said he was yet to start talks with the authorities in the Republic.

But he has set the ball rolling in the UK.

Wrightbus is seeking subsidy funding of £500m (€573m) from the UK government, with the aim of building more than 3,000 hydrogen-fuelled buses in Ballymena by 2024.

That would bring another 1,500 jobs to Ballymena, Mr Bamford said.

But he said that expensive infrastructure located close to windfarms - which would account for £200m of the £500m - is needed to make the mass production of hydrogen a reality.

The company currently employs around 550 people in Ballymena, following Mr Bamford's purchase of the firm out of administration last year.

However, Mr Bamford said that 450 had been furloughed, with about 100 engineers still in employment.

"We'd like to get an agreement on it as quickly as possible then build the infrastructure, and roll it out over a number of years.

"This will enable us to build and sell 3,000 to 3,500 buses in Ballymena, at the same price as current diesel buses," he said.

As part of its plan, there would be five new zero-emission hydrogen production plants in "disadvantaged coastal parts of the UK", as well as 30 hydrogen refuelling stations to deliver hydrogen to bus depots at below the price of diesel.

New double decker hydrogen buses, that are designed and made by Wrightbus in Ballymena, will take to the streets of London and Aberdeen later this year.

Mr Bamford has said that hydrogen power is a cheaper alternative to electrification as a green fuel source.

A focus on hydrogen fuel in the aftermath of Covid-19 could help the UK's economy, as well as bringing jobs to Ballymena, he said.

He said that the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on the environment, with a clearer sky and cleaner air resulting from the fall in traffic, could be an inspiration for greener transport.

But he warned the hit to business is real.

"The longer it goes on, the more difficult it is as a business.

"I can't keep people employed indefinitely without an income."

The company will now be lobbying MPs for support for the hydrogen plan, he said.

Irish Independent