[NL / Expert] Alstom’s iLint visits the Netherlands + context

On the evening of 26.02.2020, an Alstom-built iLint HMU arrived in the Netherlands. For the first time, a hydrogen-powered train is in the country. Unit 654 102, one of two Alstom iLint prototypesis now being tested in the northern province of Groningen. On Saturday 07.03.2020 the train was officially presented at Groningen main station.

Text by Quintus Vosman (news) and Simon Wijnakker (comments) – pictures by Reinhard Abt en Alstom

The trials take place during the night, on the non-electrified line between the cities of Leeuwarden and Groningen. The train operates from Leeuwarden, where a temporary base for technical support and fueling has been created on the perimeters of a Stadler Rail-depot. The hydrogen is stored in a trailer. The trials focus on the (re)fueling of the train, its energy consumption, and operational aspects of using a hydrogen train.

interior of Alstom Coradia iLint prototype 654 101/601 – Photo: Alstom
Funny detail: inside the 654 102 you currently find network maps of the Elbe-Weser-Netz, where these prototypes are being tested in Germany – Groningen 07.03.2020 – Reinier Abt

The nightly test drives, with speeds up to 140 km/h, take place in the period of 27.02.2020 until 14.03.2020. Passengers will not be allowed on board.

The test program is organized by Dutch railway infrastructure manager Prorail, Arriva Nederland, which operates the regional passenger train on the non-electrified lines in the North of the Netherlands, train manufacturer Alstom, and the regional public transport authorities of the provinces Friesland and Groningen. Dekra Rail will be coordinating the trials.

Alstom 654 102 on display at Groningen main station – 07.03.2020 – Reinhard Abt

The Coradia iLint hydrogen train is manufactured in Alstom’s plant in Salzgitter (DE). The standard version, of which Alstom has managed to seel over 1,000 (!) units, is a diesel train. The hydrogen-powered version iLint was first presented in 2016.

Railcolor: Although being hailed in often as the green/quiet alternative to diesel trains, Alstom has not been able to find many customers for its iLint train yet. The main hurdles are the production of the hydrogen and the installation of the specific infrastructure that is required to operate the trains (and who is paying for this). In open-technology tenders for new rolling stock the BEMU, electric trains that bridge non-electrified track sections using batteries, are strong competition.

When governments that aspire to hydrogen-fuelled railways in their regions/countries, they need to address the extra costs that arise from creating a new infrastructure. At the moment, filling your trains up with diesel / electricity is often cheaper/easier. If you expect the operator to set up hydrogen infra itself, these trains will hardly be competitive. 

Also, hydrogen itself is often subject to discussion as to its production, transport, and storage are not without danger. And if it can not be produced using green energy sources, the trains may be less polluting and quieter locally, in the end, you just take the environmental problems elsewhere. This is why most hydrogen-train projects that are currently being set-up are close to a location where hydrogen is already available or are part of a larger plan where the whole energy chain is being developed from scratch.

The project in the Netherlands could be an example of the latter option. The northern region has the ambition to use wind power to produce hydrogen that can be used for trains and busses alike, creating a ‘hydrogen-cluster’. A new line between Veendam and Stadskanaal is a perfect section to start the development of the trains and the infrastructure, but in the end, you need to implement it on a larger scale to make the new technology profitable.

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