Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been brought to market in cars like the Toyota Mirai, but a dearth of infrastructure and fueling stations have limited their popularity. Now California is trying to jumpstart the hydrogen economy by implementing fuel cell technology as a cleaner, greener source of power for trains.
- Southern California’s San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) awarded Swiss train manufacturer Stadler a contract to supply a Flirt H2 train powered by hydrogen.
- Stadler’s Flirt H2 will hold the distinction of being the first-ever hydrogen-powered train to operate in the U.S.
- The train is expected to begin operation in 2024.
Hydrogen fuel-cell technology is just beginning to make inroads in rail transport. The world’s first hydrogen-powered train entered into service in Germany in September 2018. Built by European railway manufacturer Alstom, the train is capable of traveling at speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour). Relative to conventional diesel-powered rail vehicles, it makes very little noise and produces no harmful pollutants; its only emission is water vapor.
Stadler’s hydrogen-powered train will have two cars, 108 seats and ample standing room for passengers. The power pack and hydrogen tanks will be located onboard the train, nestled between the two cars. The train will be capable of reaching a top speed of 79 miles per hour, which is the federal limit above which additional signaling systems are required.
The train will operate on the Redlands Passenger Rail Project. This is a passenger rail service that’s being built on a former Santa Fe freight railway. It extends from the University of the Redlands to the Metrolink commuter rail station in San Bernadino, a nine mile span.
The contract between SBCTA and Stadler includes an option for the purchase of four more hydrogen-powered trains. (Photo: SBCTA)
Going all the way
SBCTA signed the contract for the new train on November 14. The agreement includes the option for the purchase of four more hydrogen-powered trains. Adding these trains to its line would allow SBCTA to phase out its current diesel-powered rail vehicles and replace them with zero-emissions transportation.
“Implementing innovative solutions like this first-of-its-kind passenger train is an excellent example of how we are demonstrating our commitment to the next generation in San Bernardino County,” SBCTA President Darcy McNaboe said. “The hydrogen Flirt will help us address the commuting needs of today while preserving our environment for a better tomorrow.”
Stadler and SBCTA first began working together back in 2017. SBCTA initiated this relationship by purchasing three diesel-electric trains from the Swiss company. Stadler has sold trains to European countries such as Poland, Spain and Germany. The company also has a contract to provide 127 Metro trains to the city of Atlanta.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Trains, typically powered by diesel, are more energy-efficient than cars. Still, these rail vehicles cause significant air pollution and negative health consequences by emitting carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. Hydrogen-powered trains offer a solution that could pave the way for cleaner rail transportation.