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United Hydrail Nations

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

This update follows much farther behind the wonderfully successful 9th International Hydrail Conference in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (June 2014) than I had intended.  The reason is one I can’t regret: the cast of international players on the hydrail stage has grown so large, and there are so many  intertwining plots, that I can hardly keep up with chronicling the process!

First in order is congratulations and thanks to the organizers of the Ninth International Conference held 16-18 June, 2014, in Neumünster, Germany.  “9IHC” was the first Hydrail Conference to be conducted in a language other than English. It was in German…but the hosts provided real-time translation. The organizers were Herr Detlef Matthiessen MdL, Speaker for Energy Policy and Technology in the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag (Parliament) and Dr. Holger Busche, President-Kulturlokschuppen Neumünster e.V.  We also owe special thanks to Dr. Urte Domaschk, who made the necessary travel and logistics run smoothly.

A most important “first” by Herr Hens Baake of Vossloh Locomotives, Gmbh, of Kiel, Germany, must be acknowledged.  He became the first presenter actually to bring a locomotive to the Conference!  Some of us even got to ride the brand new DE 18 locomotive.  The D series is the first standard production locomotive in the world specifically designed for a hydrail configuration upfit. The Vossloh loco that Herr Baake brought to Neumünster was a diesel electric. In North America, where less than 1% of rail lines are electrified, we never think about “how do we go beyond the end of the wire?” But in Europe, where most lines are electric; where many diesels are old and smoky; and where CO2 emissions are a grave concern, the advent of a new, clean, green (literally!) catenary-free locomotive is big news.

Vossloh’s D18 can be configured as a double-diesel electric; a diesel-battery hybrid; or a pure battery electric locomotive. But, as Herr Baake’s presentation explains (http://hydrail.org/sites/hydrail.org/files/9_Baake.pdf), it is designed for the hydrogen economy transition as well. Vossloh calls it “Future Proof.”

Absent from Neumünster, and sorely missed, was Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter, the hydrail Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham, UK.  A native of Germany, Andreas would have been a star presenter but he had a prior speaking commitment in New Zealand and missed 9IHC.  Andreas was the key organizer of 7IHC, hosted by the University of Birmingham in 2012.

Two of the newest players on the hydrail stage are graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte:  Ben Gorman and Edward “Matt” Washing. They represent the first wave of an international hydrail design collaboration between UNC Charlotte and the Centre for Railway Research and Education at the University of Birmingham, UK.

The eventual objective of the collaboration is a joint UK-US advanced railway engineering education school, including (but going far beyond) hydrail design. Matt and Ben were in Birmingham recently as the first American team members of U. Birmingham’s hydrail locomotive design team. In 2014, for the third year, Birmingham participated in the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ Railway Challenge. The Challenge pits universities against each other to design breakthrough locomotive innovations. Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter led the team with Dr. Stuart Hillmansen, head of U. Birmingham’s traction engineering studies. The Challenge locomotives run on park or “live steaamer” gauge (10.25″) tracks.

Gorman and Washing went to the UK with the help of a grant from the Mooresville Morning Rotary Club, organized by former Mooresville Mayor Bill Thunberg (a hydrail speaker in Neumünster this summer).  Mooresville Rotary has undertaken two Hydrail Education Projects as part of Rotary International’s focus on community economic development. One project is regional (NC,SC,VA,TN,GA);  the other is international.

The purpose of both Hydrail Education Projects is—by making available hydrail education program presentations to local Rotary Clubs—informing business and government leaders that a far less costly option than external track electrification is becoming available.  Scarce fiscal resources needn’t become stranded investments in very expensive legacy technologies, such as trolleys, which can require as much as ten million dollars per mile extra for unnecessary track electrification.

A second Rotary Hydrail Education Project will make available presenters from the nine previous International Hydrail Conferences for programs at Rotary Clubs in their respective countries. So far, presenters have come from Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK and the USA. Prospects for increased world-wide hydrail awareness are excellent.

One highlight of Neumünster’s Hydrail Conference was Herbert Wancura’s visionary presentation on the potential for adapting hydrail to high speed rail applications:  “The Far Horizon – High Power Hydrail”  (http://hydrail.org/sites/hydrail.org/files/9_Wancura.pdf). When Herbert was in the USA lecturing at UNC Charlotte and visiting the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Rail Division, our talk turned to another Hydrail Conference presenter—Russian Railways’ Dmitry Grigorovich, Principal Researcher at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute for Railway Transportation in Moscow. Herbert and I speculated about connecting Russian Railways’ Hydrogen Power Car (http://hydrail.org/sites/hydrail.org/files/8-4_Grigorovich.pdf)—built to power heavy track-laying machinery in Siberian tunnels—to an electric passenger locomotive. As we prepared the Ninth Hydrail Conference, I asked Herbert to develop the idea and to present it at Neumünster. He had already been thinking along those same lines. With his always thorough engineering approach, Herbert did so. The result will, I predict, prove to have been a landmark in the evolution of railway technology in the twenty-first century.

From the first International Hydrail Conference in 2005, Bill Thunberg, Jason W. Hoyle of Appalachian State University’s Energy Center, and I have been confident that by facilitating the international exchange of ideas we can make hydrail—an inevitable green paradigm shift—available to society a few years, or even decades, sooner.  Looking back, especially at the last three International Hydrail Conferences, I’m more confident that ever that we’ve come far in that direction.

 

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