German railway company LNVG has decided to halt further investments in hydrogen trains to replace diesel engines. Claiming they are cheaper to run, the company’s latest order consists of battery-powered and catenary trains only. The strategic move is significant, as the company was famed for inaugurating the first commercial hydrogen train line.
In the summer of last year, LNVG took a world premiere with the launch of two hydrogen fuel cell trains on the line between Cuxhaven and Buxtehude in the North of Germany, run by EVB. The Coradia iLint trains from Alstom were expected to pave the path for a large fleet of hydrogen trains, replacing the older diesel trains.
A few months later, a team from Alstom set a world record with one of those EVB trains, covering 1 175 kilometers on a single tank filling and adding to the sunny outlook. Little did they know that they were heading toward a sunset instead of a sunrise.
Excess cost too high
On Thursday, the government of Lower Saxony and the owner of LNVG announced that the hydrogen track has ended, at least for the near to medium future. After an evaluation and further analysis of emission-free drivelines, an excess cost of 80% was calculated for the fuel cell train compared to battery packs. The current H2 trains will continue their services.
Consequently, LNVG has unveiled its plans to order 102 battery-powered trains and 27 catenary trains, for which a tender will be issued soon. The order replaces the remainder of the diesel fleet, which must be entirely out-phased as of 2037. The switch can be a blow for believers in a hydrogen future for heavy-duty rail transport.
Commenting on the decision, the Minister of Economic Affairs, Transport, Housing, and Digitalisation Olaf Lies said that “the basis for purchasing the new battery-powered is market research into alternative drives, which LNVG carried out. In particular, trains with hydrogen drives and batteries were considered. Result: battery trains are cheaper to operate.”
LNVG has invested 93 million euros in procuring 14 fuel cell trains, their fleet’s closest number of hydrogen locomotives. A further 8,4 million euros from the federal government increased that investment, partly used to construct a refilling station for the Coradia iLint.
Germany’s switch to hydrogen-powered rail has been a shaky road. Over in Frankfurt, where the world’s largest hydrogen train fleet is deployed, operational troubles with the Coradia iLint and delayed orders in the winter of last year led to the closure of the Taunus line, forcing passengers into bus replacements.
Reportedly, the refueling process at lower temperatures posed problems. The teething problems with the locomotives led to chaotic management of passenger flows in the region.
India, Canada, and France
In other parts of the world, the roll-out of hydrogen-powered and fuel-cell trains continues. Backed by a government investment of 305 million euros, India aims to grow into the world’s biggest hydrogen rail operator. Their first H2 train is scheduled for the end of the year. In Canada, the first hydrogen train in the Americas started services last month, also an Alstom Coradia iLint.
Eventually, in 2021, Alstom announced its hydrogen train would be put on the rails in its home country France, in four pioneering regions by 2023. Twelve to fourteen trains will be delivered through a frame contract with the railway company SNCF to Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Grand Est, and Occitanie.
In Germany, competitor Siemens presented its hydrogen train model at its factory in Krefeld. This first Mireo Plus H, as the model is called, was unveiled as part of the H2goedRail project, a joint endeavor with the German railway manager Deutsche Bahn.