The railway future of Spain goes through hydrogen trains


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Science fiction movies show us that in the cities of the future, supersonic trains will circulate levitating on rails. That future may still be far away, but the truth is that with the emergence of green hydrogen as fuel, the locomotives with smoking chimneys, which we often draw as children, could soon go down in history. In fact, Talgo, a Spanish company that is a world leader in the sector, has practically ready a prototype of a hydrogen-powered train.

Getting it has not been easy. According to Emilio García, Director of Innovation at Talgo, the company had been looking for formulas that would make locomotives that still use diesel engines more sustainable for some time. Hydrogen was a technology that was already used in other sectors, such as the automotive industry, and it also had a “clearly” higher performance than other alternatives for autonomy of more than 100 kilometers.

The challenge then was to adapt what was already used in automobiles to the dimensions of a convoy. “Automotive components are much smaller than those needed on the railway”, explains García.

This is how it came about the Vital-One. It is a dual train, that is, convoys that use electrical energy on electrified tracks and that activate diesel engines when the catenary disappears. But instead of diesel, what it has is an engine that runs on hydrogen. They are models, therefore, that could circulate on all Spanish roads, since they incorporate a unit that activates hydrogen when the convoy enters an area of ​​track without electrification. “The objective of replacing the diesel part with hydrogen is key to our future developments,” explains García.

The fuel of the future

In fact, many voices in the sector consider that green hydrogen could be “the fuel of the future”. Petronor, a Basque company of the Repsol group, hopes to have these hydrogen generation processes consolidated by the end of the year and will be in charge of supplying the fuel to Talgo. Its director of People and Organization, José Ignacio Zudaire, explains that it is a process that has existed for years, but that it is now that it is being promoted. “Introducing a new energy source always takes time”, Add. Not only will it be necessary to change engines and adapt infrastructures, it will also be necessary “a period of maturation and initial support” to be able to consolidate it.

Zudaire draws a parallel with what happened a few years ago with renewable energies. Despite initial doubts, they have been implanted throughout the world for a long time. Now, hydrogen could become the new ally against climate change. “It is the only source that 100% guarantees the decarbonization of the train,” adds García.

Of the 80,000 kilometers of non-electrified tracks in Europe, almost 6,000 are in Spain. They are located, above all, in unpopulated areas, such as Extremadura and Teruel, and also in mountainous places. And this is where the hydrogen train could also be a sustainable mobility solution. In fact, According to Talgo’s calculations, it is cheaper to adapt the trains than the track. “Electrifying the entire current rail network would entail a cost of at least 2,810 million euros,” explains García. This is an unaffordable cost for Spain, and this could be increased in sections of tunnels, where a complete remodeling would be necessary to increase the height and introduce a catenary.

hydrogen engines they are capable of transporting up to four wagons and do so at about 160 kilometers per hour. This is a speed very similar to that currently reached by diesel trains, but far from the 250 km/h that the Alvias circulate or the more than 300 km/h that the AVE can reach. That is why they are convoys designed for commuter or medium distance, routes that usually combine electrified sections and areas where it is necessary to circulate with a motor.

In practice, the image of the train hardly changes. For the traveler, the main difference will be that these engines are quieter and that they will reduce the level of smoke in the stations.

Research Center

“The hydrogen train is now a technological reality”, announced this week the president of Talgo, Carlos Palacio Oriol, after signing an agreement with Petronor and the Álava Provincial Council to create a research, development and manufacturing center for these trains. It is precisely there where Talgo already has its commuter-regional prototype ready and where the workshop tests will be carried out.

In the month of March is expected to carry out the first tests on closed roads, and later it will also be shot on open roads, probably in Extremadura. The forecast is that it is approved for this summer.

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