Since hydrogen fuel cell-powered rail, or hydrail, was last covered on the “In Transition” blog in October 2018, previously reported projects have progressed, and significant new projects have been announced.
Project Updates: United Kingdom and Germany
In 2018 the United Kingdom (UK) set the ambitious goal of phasing out diesel-only trains by 2040, and the UK Department for Transport in February, 2018 identified hydrogen as essential to this transition. As of October 2018, the only publicly-announced rail project in the UK was a plan for French multinational rail company Alstom to refit class 321 EMU trains owned by British rolling stock leasing company Eversholt Rail with fuel cells to run on hydrogen.
Since then, Alstom and Eversholt revealed the design of the refit class 321 EMU train called the ‘breeze’ in January 2019. According to Alstom, each hydrogen-powered class 321 train will have a range of 1,000 km, as well as a maximum speed of 140km/h. While Alstom says it plans to convert 100 trains in total, the first batch of retrofitted 321 class trains could be completed and ready for operation by early 2021.
In June 2019, the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education and English railway rolling stock company, Porterbrook, received a grant of $9.9 million to develop a fuel cell train prototype, the HydroFLEX, from the UK’s Department for Transport. A full-scale prototype was showcased at the Rail Live Conference at Quinton Rail Technology Centre, Warwickshire in late June.
In Germany, hydrogen fuel cell-powered rail has seen even greater adoption, with Alstom having deployed two of its Coradia iLint hydrogen trains in Lower Saxony in 2018, with an agreement to provide 14 more by 2021. The Coradia iLint trains include fuel cells provided by FCHEA member company, Hydrogenics. According to Alstom and Hydrogenics, these trains have already racked up over 100,000 km (~62,000 miles) of travel.
In 2019, Hesse, Germany’s the public transport network for Frankfurt metropolitan area, RMV, ordered 27 Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell passenger trains for delivery in 2022. This fleet will replace diesel-powered trains on four routes in the Main-Taunus district of Hesse. Additionally, the contract includes the supply of hydrogen fuel, maintenance, and the provision of reserve capacities for the next twenty-five years. The train fleet will refuel at a hydrogen station at the Industriepark Höchst in Frankfurt's Höchst district. According to Alstom, the contract from RMV is valued at €500 million (~$559 million) and funding support for the order will be provided by Germany's Federal Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.
New Projects: France, Korea, Japan
While the United Kingdom and Germany have led the way on fuel cell-powered rail, many other countries have begun development on hydrail projects as well.
In France, the national rail company SNCF has set a target to eliminate the use of diesel-powered trains by 2035. As part of this push, SNCF plans to begin testing hydrogen fuel cell-powered rail options in 2021, and expects to have these trains in full operation by 2022.
In South Korea, FCHEA member Hyundai Motor Group and its locomotive subsidiary, Hyundai Rotem, are currently developing a fuel cell train with the initial prototype scheduled to be produced in 2020. Plans call for the train to be capable of travelling 200 kilometers (~124 miles) between refueling stops at speeds up to 70 kilometers per hour (~43 miles per hour). This effort would support the South Korean government's push to deploy hydrogen transportation across the country.
In Japan, East Japan Railway Co. has announced a plan to test new hydrogen-powered trains beginning in the year 2021. The company plans to spend ¥4 billion (~$37 million) on the development of a two-car setup and test runs, aiming to commercialize the design by the year 2024. The system will have a maximum speed of 100 kilometers per hour (~62 miles per hour) and is expected to travel about 140 kilometers (~87 miles) per tank of hydrogen.
As hydrogen fuel cell-powered rail continues to be a hotspot for development, and new projects across the globe, we will continue to update this blog with all of the latest news.