Saying goodbye to diesel is a priority – but what is the best alternative? The study of a German technology institute speaks out against hydrogen trains, as those are still planned for the Zillertalbahn. Their technology board reacted violently, referring to special requirements.
Despite all the debates and setbacks, Helmut Schreiner, CEO of the Zillertaler Verkehrsbetriebe, is convinced of the future hydrogen train in the valley. And he refers to the government program, which reads on page 54: The “Zukunft Zillertalbahn 2020+” project must be massively promoted as a Tyrolean lighthouse project for sustainable and emission-free mobility. “There is no exact timetable yet. We hope to have the vehicles by 2026,” says Schreiner.
Study sees battery trains in favor
There are international debates about the best technology: The German Association for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies (VDE) wrote a study on climate-neutral trains and found: “The cost-effectiveness of battery-powered trains is significantly higher than hydrogen-powered.” The difference can be up to 35 percent (purchase, operation, maintenance).
Key factors: The required green hydrogen must be generated from electricity with an efficiency of less than 80 percent. “The price of green hydrogen is therefore always higher than the price of electricity,” says study author Wolfgang Klebsch. In addition, the fuel cells would have to be replaced up to seven times during the life of the vehicle. The study analyzed the network in Düren (North Rhine-Westphalia). Battery trains are therefore clearly preferable.
Faced with this, Schreiner Zillertaler lists idiosyncrasies that he believes turn study results upside down:
- Charging times: At Mayrhofen train station, the batteries should be charged in 10 to 12 minutes with a maximum of 287 kWh: “A turnaround time of 15 minutes is possible, but any delays cannot be made up.”
- passenger capacity: Batteries require approximately 13 m³ of installation space and 21 tons of extra weight. This would mean 395 passengers instead of 453 (with hydrogen).
- axle loads: The battery train weighs 186 tons, the hydrogen train 164 tons – that means higher axle loads and more track maintenance.
And an overhead line with electricity? 51 kilometers would have to be electrified, at 950,000 euros per kilometer that would be almost 49 million euros in investments. The necessary EIA procedure would delay everything until at least 2030. The lines at 85 level crossings are also dangerous. “Under our special circumstances, the hydrogen propulsion is therefore the best,” summarizes Schreiner.
I’m Ben Stock, a journalist and author at Today Times Live. I specialize in economic news and have been working in the news industry for over five years. My experience spans from local journalism to international business reporting. In my career I’ve had the opportunity to interview some of the world’s leading economists and financial experts, giving me an insight into global trends that is unique among journalists.