by guest blogger Stan Thompson
The 7th International Hydrail Conference (“7IHC”) will be held one week later than originally planned so that conferees at an important German rail conference can attend both events.
During the 20th century, coal-fired steam locomotives gave way to diesel and external electric traction power. Now, in the 21st, diesel and external electric railways are poised to give way to hydrogen-powered trains. On 3-4 July 2012, the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education will host 7IHC, which aims to expedite development and deployment of clean, renewable hydrogen train propulsion technologies.
“Hydrail,” the generic term of art for hydrogen-based rail propulsion, was coined in 2004 to enable universities, government agencies and rail equipment suppliers to access developments in the field via the Internet.
In Los Angeles, in 2009, BNSF Railway began testing the first full-sized hydrail switch engine. It’s the largest hydrogen-powered land vehicle to date.
Taiwan was the first country to transport passengers regularly by hydrail on a miniature railway at a science museum. Japan’s Government Railway Transportation Research Institute and East Japan Railway each demonstrated its own design for hydrail rail cars in the last decade. About the same time, Denmark’s HIRC (Hydrogen Innovation and Research Center) in Herning planned a train in Jutland to be powered by waste hydrogen or wind power electrolysis hydrogen but it fell prey to the recession. In 2010, China announced demonstration of their first hydrail or “new energy” train.
FEVE, the acronym for Spanish Narrow-Gauge Railways, demonstrated a hydrail tram or hydrolley last year and have announced they will place it in revenue service in 2012. Designers of the FEVE project have been invited to present at 7IHC.
Auto manufacturers buy a lot of advertising; train builders don’t. The general media has skipped-over hydrail, leaving a public impression that “hydrogen is a futuristic, automotive-specific technology.” But history indicates the opposite.
Steam autos followed steam trains by about sixty-five years. Electric cars began to appear about a decade after the first circa-1885 electric train and are only now becoming commonplace again. Diesel trains arrived in 1925 but fifty years went by before the public got to drive or top-up a family diesel car.
To me, as a planner, it would seem odd if a luxury, early-adopter, consumer-miniaturized technology, requiring ubiquitous national product support, became common before local, publicly funded hydrail transit systems.
That hydrogen cars have been slow in coming doesn’t reflect on their practicality. The media tendency to put the “cart” before the “iron horse” has simply distorted public expectations.
Truing them up is one goal of the Hydrail Conferences.
Academic hydrail conferences began in 2005 and have been held in Denmark, Spain, Turkey and the United States with presenters from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, the US and the UN.
The Birmingham Centre’s July 3-4 Conference will focus on the status of hydrail projects around the world; on innovations in hydrail technology; and on the environmental, climate, and economic problems driving oil- and copper-limited rail technologies toward a hydrail future.