Stadler unveils first hydrogen train for U.S., announces order for up to 29 more

Authored by and submitted by chopchopped

BERLIN — The first hydrogen-powered trainset for use in the U.S. has been presented to its owners at the InnoTrans trade fair by manufacturer Stadler — which also announced an order for more of the equipment for use in Amtrak California intercity service.

The two-car trainset was ordered by the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority in 2019 for use on the 9-mile “Arrow” rail line between the University of Redlands and the San Bernardino Transit Center. The new zero-emission hydrogen-powered multiple-unit (ZEMU) trains will undergo extensive testing in Europe this year and in 2023 before being shipped to the U.S. to enter service in 2024. The Arrow line, currently in testing and projected to open this October, will also use low-emission “Flirt” diesel multiple-unit trainsets supplied by Stadler; the first of these was delivered in March 2022.

Stadler built the train at its factory in Bussnang, Switzerland, which has produced hundreds of previous EMU versions of the Flirt train design. It uses hydrogen fuel cells supplied by Canadian specialist firm Ballard, although the electric power invertors and traction motors are based on those in use in existing EMUs. SBCTA bought the hydrogen-powered train with financial support from California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

Stadler believes hydrogen will be a viable alternative to existing diesel passenger trains, as well as further electrification of commuter rail routes — which is capital intensive, even if it is ultimately the cheapest way to power trains.

The train’s design features a central power module that contains the hydrogen fuel cells, and the company says it believes this is a better approach than its competitors, as the middle of the train is likely the safest place in the event of an accident. Both Siemens and Alstom build hydrogen-powered trains with fuel cells mounted on the roof of passenger driving cars. To enable passengers to move around the train, a corridor runs the length of the hydrogen center section, although notices in both English and Spanish tell passengers not to linger there.

Amtrak California orders up to 29 hydrogen trainsets

Stadler and CalSTA also announced a major order for a longer, intercity version of the Stadler ZEMU. It calls for the company to deliver four four-car ZEMUs from its factory in Salt Lake City by 2027, with an option for another 25 trains under a memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday at Innotrans by Stadler, CalSTA, and Caltrans.

California aims to make all its passenger rail 100% emissions free by 2035 and this order and option will be a key part of that effort. The first four new ZEMUs will be used in the Central Valley between Merced and Sacramento, providing connections with the California High Speed Rail route when complete.

The new trains are designed with a 500-mile operating range between refueling. Assuming the option is exercised, the equipment will replace existing diesel-powered, push-pull equipment used for Amtrak California services.

TheScotchEngineer on September 22nd, 2022 at 02:23 UTC »

A lot of misinformed comments in here. This is a great step forward for the world's decarbonisation plans.

A few classic arguments against this being uplifting:

1) hydrogen isn't green right now and is just a way for big oil to stay relevant: Neither is electric (whether battery or not) - it's a route that allows future decarbonisation via renewable power e.g. electrolysis-based green hydrogen. There are 100s of such truly green hydrogen projects around the world coming online 2025-2035 and onwards at megawatt and gigawatt scale tied to solar and wind power.

2) hydrogen is inefficient: it is certainly less efficient than directly taking electrical power from the grid and possibly against battery electric too, however:

a) it doesn't need to rely on taking power when grids are constrained e.g. use power when renewables are over-producing thus decoupling train running times against peak grid consumption and

b) hydrogen + fuel cells has much higher energy density and rapid refuelling compared to batteries (this isn't even a consideration for freight trains because battery technology is just not good enough yet for heavy duty transport applications, whereas hydrogen is. Now.),

c) reliability is king in this world, not efficiency. If we cared about efficiency, we would not run trains half empty and would charter trains when bookings were full. We used to do that 100s of years ago and when companies began running scheduled services to run regardless of booking numbers, we never turned back. In this world, reliability > efficiency,

d) the energy conversion of hydrogen may be less efficient, but when considering overall capital cost of rail projects, long & infrequently used tracks are extremely expensive to directly electrify. That is why e.g. Germany still has diesel Train routes that are not electrified, and why they are also pursuing hydrogen-fuelled trains to convert these 'hard to electrify' routes - it ends up being more efficient overall, since power consumption is a small slice of the cost pie.

3) hydrogen is unsafe: it's certainly less safe than direct electrification. It's comparable to diesel (and definitely comparable to natural gas which admittedly is not generally used to fuel trains). However, rail (just like aviation) is actually incredibly safe overall as a form of transport. Hydrogen is a known substance including the way it behaves when it ignites. There are 'positives' in the way hydrogen behaves as well - for example, it floats and disperses rapidly upwards away from people (this can also be a hazard if there are unvented roofs that it can collect under). If it is released it is almost certainly likely to ignite quickly due to its low ignition energy - therefore it is less likely to explosively detonate (because there's less time for it to mix up a big explosive cloud), and more likely to generate a hot flame (not dissimilar to batteries on fire) - these known risks all play into the safe engineering design of the storage and fuelling systems, just like a diesel/gas/LPG-fuelled car which are much likely to be involved in a crash with explosive results (exploding cars mostly happen on TV, most cars go on fire).

Alright, that's enough for me. Hydrogen isn't the answer for everything, but in a world where we are behind on the curve, it plays well into a mix of energy decarbonisation technologies that we need to leverage now and not later. Oil and gas was so easy to use for everything, but to wean ourselves off, we need a variety of technologies for all the niches fossil fuels have laid claim/waste to.

blodskaal on September 22nd, 2022 at 00:52 UTC »

Isnt hydrogen derived from Natural gas usually? In the transport sector?

CustosEcheveria on September 21st, 2022 at 23:01 UTC »

About time we started getting better rail systems in this country. We've had over a century of heavy lobbying from automotive industries slowing progress down, so well overdue.