With the first hydrogen-powered trains in passenger service, there is little holding back a shift to net-zero emissions mobility.
The next European operator to begin trails of hydrogen trains will be Austrian rail company ÖBB.
In partnership with Alstom, ÖBB will run the hydrogen-powered Coradia iLint in passenger service until the end of November in a trial.
The Coradia iLint has been trialled successfully in Northern Germany and trials in the Netherlands have been conducted in 2020. Agreements with rail companies in Italy and the UK have also been signed in 2020 to progress the delivery of hydrogen-powered rollingstock in those countries.
In the Austrian trial, the trains will be run on unelectrified lines in the south of the country which are geographically challenging.
Jörg Nikutta, Alstom’s CEO in Germany and Austria said the trains would fill a gap in the decarbonisation of rail.
“The train’s emission-free drive technology offers a climate-friendly alternative to conventional diesel trains, especially on non-electrified lines.”
Andreas Matthä, CEO of ÖBB-Holding AG said the company was looking at new technology that could make rail more environmentally friendly.
“As the largest climate protection company in Austria, we are actively shaping the mobility of the future with technological alternatives.”
The Austrian trial comes as the UK rail sector looks to fully decarbonise, with hydrogen-powered trains to play a key role. The Interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy, put together by Network Rail in partnership with the rail industry, sets out which lines will be electrified and where alternative traction technologies will be used to meet the net zero carbon emissions target.
The strategy identified 11,700 kilometres of track where electrification would take place, battery operation on 400km and hydrogen on 900km. To do this, between 150 and 200 battery and hydrogen trains would be required.
Rail manufacturer Alstom has joined with gases and engineering company Linde to build and operate a hydrogen filling station to support hydrogen trains on the Elbe-Weser network, in the German state of Lower Saxony.
The hydrogen filling station will provide the fuel for the operation of Alstom’s Coradia iLint hydrogen-powered trains, which completed a test phase in February.
While operating passenger services, the trains were able to replace diesel-powered services, and only emit water vapour and condensation.
Completion of the filling station is expected in mid-2021 and 14 hydrogen trains will be utilising the facility by the beginning of 2022.
Once filled at the station, the trains will be able to run for up to 1,000km, meaning they only require one tank filling. The station has room for expansion to produce hydrogen on site through electrolysis and regenerative electricity.
Hydrogen is a key fuel in the decarbonisation of rail where electrification is not possible, facilities such as the filling station will enable emissions-free transport and support Germany’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.
“The construction of the hydrogen filling station in Bremervörde will create the basis for the series operation of our emission-free hydrogen trains in the Weser-Elbe network,” said Jörg Nikutta, managing director Germany and Austria of Alstom.
Mathias Kranz, responsible at Linde for the onsite and bulk business in Germany, said the switch to hydrogen would improve environmental outcomes.
“The introduction of hydrogen as a fuel for trains will significantly reduce the burden on the environment, as one kilogram of hydrogen replaces approximately 4.5 litres of diesel fuel.”
According to Andreas Wagner, head of local rail passenger transport and signatory of the Elbe-Weser Railways and Transport Company, the introduction of hydrogen trains has promoted interest in rail from passengers and motivated drivers.
“Our passengers were very curious about the trains and their technology from the very beginning. In addition to the very low noise level, the hydrogen train impresses with its zero emissions, especially in times of climate change. For our train drivers, the operation of iLint was a very special motivation,” he said.