Under steam: New drives: Will the train soon be climate-neutral?

Even those who take the train instead of the car cause greenhouse gases. The railway industry is therefore working on alternative drives. Perhaps trains will soon let off steam more frequently.

The future of rail travel is written on several tracks at the radio tower in western Berlin: Please board trains with batteries, hydrogen engines or fuel cells. The manufacturers show new hybrid locomotives, multi-system locomotives and dual-powered locomotives.

After a four-year break, the railway technology trade fair is now opening again in Berlin innotrans. And the top issue is climate protection, including climate protection for the railways themselves. Because many countries are counting on more people traveling by train instead of by car.

Until Friday (September 24th) more than 2800 exhibitors from 56 countries will be presenting trains, track systems, accessories and services in Berlin. In focus: alternative drives. The European goal of climate neutrality by 2050 will drive demand in all market segments over the next few years, said the President of the European industry association Unife, Philippe Citroën.

Resilience to global crises

This is already leading to record sales and full order books for many manufacturers. Citroën expects the global market to grow by a further three percent annually over the next few years and reach a volume of almost 211 billion euros in 2025. “The railway industry has proven its resilience to global crises.”

In the climate crisis, she sees the railways as part of the solution, but she also has to work on herself, including in Germany. According to Deutsche Bahn, rail transport caused 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide last year. For example, because many routes are not yet electrified. Where there is no overhead line, the trains do not run on green electricity, but mostly on diesel.

61 percent of the routes are electrified, and 90 percent of the traffic runs over them. However, experts believe that building expensive overhead lines on every branch line is too complex. “Wherever there are gaps in electrification, the use of hydrogen trains and battery vehicles is an option,” explains Rüdiger Wendt from the Association of German Engineers (VDI). The battery for shorter distances, the hydrogen for longer ones. Then trains will emit steam again – although not as much as the steam locomotives once did.

Train with hydrogen fuel cell from Siemens

In Berlin, for example, Siemens is presenting a train with a hydrogen fuel cell that Deutsche Bahn has recently been testing. Stadler presents its hydrogen multiple unit, which will soon be driving in California. Deutsche Bahn is showing a goods locomotive from Siemens that runs on both electricity from the overhead line and diesel. The Japanese manufacturer Hitachi also has a battery on board its passenger train – three types of drive in one train.

“If someone can make a significant contribution to climate protection and the necessary turnaround in traffic, then that’s our industry,” says Axel Schuppe, Managing Director of the German Railway Industry Association. However, public money is still flowing too hesitantly. “We expect a boost.”

The industry also wants advantages over cheap Chinese offers by specifying more quality and environmental criteria in tenders. “Who buys cheap, buys twice” – with this argument, the Germans want to outdo the Chinese challenger CRRC, the largest provider in the world. Because he is also working on alternative drives.

© dpa-infocom, dpa:220919-99-822832/2 (By Burkhard Fraune, dpa)

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