What future for hydrogen trains in Europe?

future of hydrogen trains

The anti-hydrogen campaigners were so very happy last summer when the Lower Saxony transport authority (LNVG) announced that it will use battery-powered trains instead of hydrogen-powered ones (read our article). Except that the latter is not being called into question. A panel* at the Le Mans Hydrogène event set the record straight regarding the future of hydrogen trains.

The press rarely talks about trains that arrive on time. Instead, they are interested in what can make hydrogen derail. And this summer, all it took to bury hydrogen trains was a press release announcing that the LNVG chose battery-powered trains for part of its network . Except that the decision applies to lines where the range required is inferior to 100 km. Stéphane Kaba, in charge of hydrogen at Alstom, clarified this point. It was therefore obvious that the battery was more than sufficient. In fact, it’s a technology that the group offers in its portfolio, just like conventional electric trains.

70 hydrogen trains ordered to date

Alstom’s – incidentally incomprehensible – lack of reaction was enough to start the controversy machine rolling. At yesterday’s round table in Le Mans, the speaker from Alstom indicated that the trains already running in Germany in the same Land of Lower Saxony would keep running. And he even said that further orders for their hydrogen trains could be placed in the near future. On this subject, Stéphane Kaba mentioned that 70 hydrogen trains have already been ordered (Italy, France, other European countries and Quebec).

Yesterday’s discussion was about the deployment of this type of train in France. The **SNCF, which took part in it, has not changed its mind. Surprised by the controversy that erupted this summer, the national railway company is indeed planning to run regional trains of the Regiolis type (a dual-mode train, unlike the 100% hydrogen train running in Germany). They will be brought into service in 2026.

Retrofit in sight in France

The dual-mode solution is very handy, as it allows the use of catenaries when the line is electrified and hydrogen when it is not. We have also learnt that the SNCF is considering retrofitting hybrid (diesel and electric) regional trains to replace the combustion engine with a hydrogen propulsion.

Alstom pointed out that a 100% hydrogen train had already run in France, between Tours and Loches. It will also be offered to the SNCF, which sees an interest in it. It has a range of over 1,000 km. The train manufacturer also mentioned freight. It is developing locomotives adapted to this type of use, and is working in partnership with Engie. The first use will be to decarbonise water transport at Nestlé Waters.

E-fuels for trains

The bottom line from this round table is that hydrogen trains are not the be-all and end-all (no more than electric trains), but they do have their place in the energy mix of the future. Alstom is therefore pushing this solution like others. And the SNCF is also exploring a number of avenues. It was said at Le Mans, for example, that the national railway company was interested in synthetic fuels.

So the hydrogen train is not called into question. Hydrogen Today even wrote an article on the subject. One of the real issue of spreading fake news is that these negative articles are influencing investors, who are consequently cautious when hydrogen start-ups come and see them to ask for financing.

*Stéphane Kaba, IPCEI Hydrogen Program Director at Alstom; Philippe Perrier, Head of the ‘Hydrogen Train’ Technical Project Batch – SNCF Material Engineering Centre at SNCF Travellers; and Philippe Tardivon, Regiolis H2 Project Manager at SNCF SA.

**SNCF is French for “Service National des Chemins de Fer français” (National Society of the French Railways)

Do you want to learn more about the future of hydrogen trains? Then our latest article on the subject should interest you. You can read it here.

Article written by Laurent Meillaud and translated by Logan King 

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About the author

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Logan King

After an unusual career (3 years in the French army followed by a 3-year degree in Applied Foreign Languages), it was my passion for environmental issues that finally caught up with me and led me to join Seiya Consulting and H2 Today in June 2022. First as an end-of-study internship, then as Marketing & Communication Manager and translator at Hydrogen Today.

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