New trains, but what gains?

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Across Europe, hydrogen-powered and battery-run trains are starting to replace diesel engines as the transport sector doubles down on efforts to advance sustainable mobility. The transport sector, which accounts for nearly a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, is targeting a 90% reduction by 2050.

 

Many companies are now taking their cues from the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) to do contribute to the decarbonization effort. Could the new trains hold the key to this cleaner energy transition, and what exactly are the benefits?

Introducing more battery and hydrogen-powered trains will call for substantial investment, commitment and coordination between government agencies, infrastructure managers and train operators. But there are clear benefits for those stakeholders and for the passenger, and these technologies bring the transportation sector a step closer to the goal of decarbonization and in line with global SDGs.

As the rail industry seeks to reduce its environmental footprint and persuade more people to shift from car to train, it is turning to alternative fuel options. Two of those options are hydrogen and traction battery power.

 

Austrian rail operator ÖBB has recently completed testing a prototype of Siemens Mobility’s Desiro Cityjet Eco electro-battery hybrid train with passengers in Lower Austria. A sustainable alternative for non-electrified rail lines that are primarily served by diesel trains, Desiro Cityjet Eco is aligned with the UN’s SDG 9: build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

 

Germany and France are among other European countries that have also started to invest in battery technology. Why are businesses and operators investing in this new technology?

Journeys are cleaner and quieter

A decarbonized transport sector aligns further with the SDGs. In particular goals 7 (affordable and clean energy), 11 (sustainable cities and communities),12 (responsible consumption and production), and 13 (climate action), have a direct correlation to the transport sector.

 

In 2020, Germany’s Baden-Württemberg rail system (SFBW) placed the first order for Siemens Mobility’s Mireo Plus B battery-powered trains, which are due to be delivered in 2023. When charged with renewable energy, the trains will provide passenger transport free of local CO2 emissions.

 

A lithium-ion battery system is fitted under the train’s floor, which powers the rail car and charges via overhead power lines as it moves. When the train reaches rail tracks with no overhead power, the battery comes into force.

And in November 2020, German railway operator Deutsche Bahn and Siemens Mobility launched the H2goesRail partnership to trial Mireo Plus H, a hydrogen train and innovative refueling system, which is expected to carry passengers by 2024. The launch is part of Deutsche Bahn’s pledge to phase out all diesel trains and locomotives as part of its plan to become carbon neutral by 2050.

 

A train running on hydrogen produced with renewable energy sources has zero emissions and saves about 330 tons of CO2 per year. Without combustion engine, they are also far quieter than their diesel counterparts – a welcome benefit for engineers, passengers and those who live close to busy rail routes. 

 

To further promote the use of hydrogen, and in line with SDG 7, rail sector, Siemens Mobility has partnered with Siemens Energy to jointly develop an offer called “Hydrogen as a Service” in Europe.

On time and more efficient

Alternative fuels also have advantages beyond clean energy. Punctuality is a common challenge for rail services. Each year, changing temperatures wreak havoc on overhead wires and further compound the problem. But self-sufficient battery- and hydrogen-powered trains could remove that hazard, securing availability, reducing cancellations and strengthening the resilience of operators even as extreme weather conditions become increasingly common.

 

These technologies also reduce the cost of installing infrastructure such as overhead lines and diesel stations for refueling. And the Mireo Plus B train, for instance, is recharged through regenerative braking, which makes the system more energy-efficient and cost-effective over its service life – which is generally the case for battery-powered vehicles. The Mireo Plus H train, meanwhile, regenerates and stores breaking energy in a battery as well which makes it way more efficient as a diesel train, minimizing downtime required and maintaining operational efficiency. 

Introducing more battery and hydrogen-powered trains will call for substantial investment, commitment and coordination between government agencies, infrastructure managers and train operators. But there are clear benefits for those stakeholders and for the passenger, and these technologies bring the railways a step closer to the goal of decarbonization and in line with global SDGs.