by guest blogger Stan Thompson
Since you’re reading this, you already know how indebted the hydrogen community is to Kevin—the originator of this blog—for his role in keeping us up to date with the biggest news about the littlest atom.
Today, though, I’m more grateful than ever; Kevin just tipped me off about an article in Railway Gazette that made my day. Its title is “Fuel cells to power regional trainsets”.
The gist of the article is that European rail vehicle builder Alstom Transport plans to deploy forty hydrail trains in Germany by the end of this decade—with two online as early as 2018! To the best of my knowledge, these trainsets (multi-unit, self-propelled passenger consists) will be the first fleet of intercity hydrail vehicles in the world. Deploying forty trains as the first “batch” indicates that German national commitment to hydrail is hardly tentative.
As one of the founders of the annual International Hydrail Conferences, the fact that Alstom Transport is the fleet builder is particularly gratifying to me; over eight years ago in Herning, Denmark, Alstom described a hydrail trainset in their presentation to the second-ever International Hydrail Conference .
About that same time, two Japanese hydrail trainsets were also designed—one by a team led by Dr. Keiichiro Kondo at the national government’s Railway Transport Research Institute and the other by East Japan Railways. However, neither of Japan’s hydrail trainsets seem to have proceeded beyond the demonstration stage. When the nuclear tragedy at Fukushima cut wayside electric power to the Japanese rail network, a fleet of self-powered hydrail trainsets might have provided some emergency relief.
Also as a Hydrail Conference founder, I find it delightful (though not at all surprising) that Germany will be the site of the first operating fleet. This year German hydrail pioneer Dr. Holger Busche was the main organizer of the Ninth International Hydrail Conference, held in the City of Neumünster in the Land (State) of Schleswig-Holstein. Dr. Busche worked in close cooperation with Herr Detlef Matthiessen MdL, S-H’s Speaker of Parliament for Energy Policy and Technology.
Better than any other country (except, perhaps, Iceland), Germany understands that hydrogen technology is the world’s only energy network (or “soft grid”) combining both the transmission and the storage of energy in a single system. For over ten years Dr. Busche has pursued the integration of zero-carbon North German wind power with railway traction. The partial funding of Alstom’s hydrail trainsets by the German Federal Government shows that Dr. Busche has been both correct and far ahead of his time.
The Charlotte Campus of the University of North Carolina has been invited to host next year’s Tenth International Hydrail Conference, perhaps at the State’s Transportation Museum. The Museum is a sprawling, historic, former steam locomotive maintenance facility located in Spencer, NC.
Hopefully, someone from Alstom can be on hand in Spencer to reprise and update their prescient 2006 presentation from the Denmark hydrail conference!