The trend of low-emission transport is shifting from roads to rails. However, companies turn not only to electricity but also to hydrogen in the field of alternative propulsion. Rail carriers in Germany will soon send the first hydrogen-powered trains to the line.
Siemens and Deutsche Bahn, a German railway operator, have announced that they will test a hydrogen train whose technology according to server CNN promises to reduce emissions, saving around 330 tonnes of CO2 per year.
“Hydrogen propulsion is an advanced emission-free form of fuel that will help decarbonise rail transport and make a significant contribution to our climate goals,” said Michael Peter, CEO of Siemens Mobility, in a press release.
The vehicle is called Mireo Plus H. It will carry passengers between four cities in Baden-Württemberg. On this route, it will replace the diesel-powered trains that currently run there. Both German companies said that testing would last only a year and begin in 2024.
The German carrier plans to phase out all diesel trains by 2050. So far, Deutsche Bahn operates about 1,300 of them. About 40 percent of the railway network in Germany, ie 33,000 kilometers, has not yet been electrified. This means that trains cannot run on outdoor power lines.
Mireo Plus H will power batteries and fuel cells that convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. The set with two cars will have a range of 600 kilometers. But Siemens also said it would develop a version of the three-car hydrogen train with a mileage of 1,000 kilometers.
The train can reach a maximum speed of 160 kilometers per hour and can be recharged in as little as 15 minutes. “Whether the train is powered from overhead lines or hydrogen, the decisive factor is that the energy comes from renewable sources,” said Baden-Württemberg Transport Minister Winfried Hermann. “Our country wants to be a pioneer of modern and sustainable rail transport,” added Hermann.
Hydrogen has long been considered a promising source of energy for rail networks. For example, the French rolling stock manufacturer Alstom tested a hydrogen-powered train from 2018 to 2020, which now runs on some routes in Austria and Lower Saxony.
Czech Railways is also considering expanding its train fleet with more environmentally friendly trains. In cooperation with customers, they plan to purchase low-emission hydrogen or battery-powered trains. “We are dealing with projects that would be appropriate to provide with hybrid and emission-free vehicles. We want to be a leader in the transport market in this area, “said Gabriela Novotná, spokeswoman for Czech Railways.
So far, Czech Railways is buying electric trains for long-distance as well as regional transport. “We are already discussing with selected regions the possibility of using trains with alternative propulsion,” Novotná said.
The Czech national carrier would like to switch to emission-free vehicles as soon as possible. However, according to him, it needs systemic financial support, as alternative-powered trains are a more expensive option than, for example, motor units. There are currently 697 and 216 locomotives of such Czech Railways cars.
In order to put hydrogen or battery sets into operation, a supportive attitude on the part of customers – ie the state and regions – is also required. “Unfortunately, the costs of acquiring and operating these vehicles are still beyond their capabilities, and without significant state support for emission-free vehicles, a significant introduction of these operations will not be possible,” Novotná describes.
He adds that emission-free trains can make a significant contribution to reducing the carbon footprint produced by transport, which is one of the priority goals of Europe and the Czech Republic.
We don’t take hydrogen, we plant trees
The private carrier RegioJet remains loyal to electricity. “We run all long-distance trains on electricity. The only exceptions are regional trains in the Ústí nad Labem Region, which will also switch to electricity within two years, ”said RegioJet spokesman Aleš Ondrůj. Yellow trains want to maintain electricity traffic in the future and are not yet considering a hydrogen alternative.
Similarly, another Czech railway carrier, Leo Express, operates, which operates mainly electric trains and runs with modernized diesel units in places where the lines have not yet been electrified. “We are currently testing the new Sirius trains, which are also electric and can be connected to a locomotive with an alternative drive. We plan to go with them next year, “says Leo Express spokesman Emil Sedlařík.
Sedlařík adds that Leo Express is the only domestic train carrier that allows passengers to compensate for their carbon footprint. “In recent days, we have planted the first 40 trees as compensation,” he says.