Thursday 28 March 2024

Fuel-cell train travels more than 1,700 miles on one tank of hydrogen


A hydrogen fuel-cell passenger train developed by Swiss rail vehicle maker Stadler Rail has achieved a new Guinness World Record, traveling for almost two days around the clock for a distance of 1,741.7 miles.

Efforts to clean up dirty trains are already well underway, with heavy investment in electrifying networks around the world as well as rolling out battery-electric locomotives such as the FLXDrive, the Blues train and the Flirt Akku.

That last example is made by Stadler Rail AG, and managed to achieve a Guinness World Record in 2021 for the longest per-charge battery-only journey of 224 km (~140 miles), on a route between Berlin and Warnemünde during a freezing local winter – not bad for a train that was designed with an operational per-charge range of 80 km.

Not all rail networks can support electrification and that battery range just won't be enough for long-haul transportation of goods or people. That's where hydrogen could come in, making extended travel possible and only emitting steam and water.

Stadler first introduced its Flirt H2 passenger model at InnoTrans 2022 in Berlin, and began testing in Switzerland. It's designed to replace diesel-powered trains on non-electrified or partially electrified networks, and features two motor-driven end cars with a hydrogen tank and fuel cells inbetween. The fuel cells feed energy to an onboard battery, which powers the electric drive.

Originally built for California's San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, it's reported top speed is 127 km/h (79 mph) and it has a range of 460 km (286 miles) per refueling stop. However, that range figure has just been blown out of the park at the ENSCO test circuit in Pueblo, Colorado, to get Stadler into the record books again.

On the evening of March 20, the Flirt H2 set off on its first lap of the track. Engineers then took it in turns to man the controls for more than 46 hours, after which the train came to a stop having clocked up 2,803 km (1741.7 miles) on a single tank of hydrogen.

This translates into the world record for the "longest distance traveled by a hydrogen-powered passenger train without refueling or recharging." What we don't have is the speed average, the capacity of the fuel-cell system (though Hydrogen Insight reports that the SBCTA model features "12 fuel cells at 100 kW each"), or whether green hydrogen was used as the fuel source, but it's a significant milestone nonetheless.

"This world record establishes the ideal performance range of our hydrogen version of the best-selling Flirt Electric Multiple Unit, the Flirt H2," said Stadler's Dr. Ansgar Brockmeyer. "This is a monumental achievement from our entire team and we are very proud to hold another record title."

In addition to confirmed orders in California, Stadler has revealed that two Italian rail operators have signed contracts for the supply of 15 hydrogen-powered trains between them. Footage from the distance record can be seen below.

Source: Stadler Rail/New Atlas

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