China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC)’s Qingdao Sifang announced this week that they have been awarded a contract to supply eight hydrogen fuel cell trams for a new light rail line. The hydrogen or hydrail train will run in Foshan in southeastern China. A 17.4km track will be built in two phases at 760 million yuan ($109.0 million) with 20 stations. Construction began last month and is expect to be completed next year. The new line will use hydrogen fuel cell technology, which is being built by CRRC Qingdao Sifang, a unit of CRRC, the nation’s leading maker of high-speed rail. A demonstration model of the trains was first rolled out in Qingdao in 2015, but the Foshan project will mark the world’s first deployment of a full-scale commercial system; the trains can travel at speeds of up to 70kp/h.
So what is a hydrogen powered train?
These trains are CO2 emission free regional trains and alternative to diesel power. Hydrogen power works when hydrogen is burned with oxygen to produce huge amounts of energy, with the only by-product being water. Hydrail vehicles convert the chemical energy of hydrogen to mechanical energy, either by burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine vehicle or by reacting to hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to run electric motors.
Hydrail in Foshan
Foshan is a main interchange for railway routes linking Guangzhou, Hong Kong and western Guangdong Province. It is connected with Hong Kong via the KCRC Guangdong Through Train service from Foshan Railway Station, an inter-city train service that was extended from Guangzhou to Foshan in the 1990s. The 70km/h vehicles will accommodate 285 passengers and the fleet will be used on the 17.4km Gaoming Line, which will serve 20 stations. The initial 6.5km section is due to open next year.
“Hydrogen-powered rail is a new kind of electric train, different from other systems,” the CRRC ( @ ) unit said. “It uses hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity, giving it not only more range but also eliminating the need for electrified track.”
This plan is part of China’s objective to promote new energy transportation to clean up the country’s dangerously polluted air. Up until now, most rail related innovations have been battery-power focused or hybrid vehicles. Foshan is one of three of the largest cities in the Guangdong province that plans to upgrade its entire public-bus fleet to electric-powered vehicles by 2020. Their aim is make 75 per cent of public services powered by green energy over the next five years.
Hydrail across the globe
But China is not the first country to begin using the technology; the first hydrail user will be Germany.
Alstom is one of the first railway manufacturers in the world to develop a passenger train based on such a technology. This launch follows the Letters-of-Intent signed in 2014 with the German Landers of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, and the Public Transportation Authorities of Hesse for the use of a new generation of emission-free train equipped with fuel cell drive.
“Alstom is proud to launch a breakthrough innovation in the field of clean transportation which will complete its Coradia range of regional trains. It shows our ability to work in close collaboration with our customers and develop a train in only two years,” declared Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Alstom Chairman and CEO.
The train was first debuted at the 2016 InnoTrans event in Berlin and will be accessible to the public in December 2017. Once the train has started operations it will be able to travel almost 500 miles each day at speeds of up to 87mph.
The Coradia iLint only emits excess steam into the atmosphere, and provides an alternative to the country’s 4,000 diesel trains. There’s also interest in the train from the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.
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