The first commuter train powered by clean hydrogen has left the production hall in China. It can transport 1500 passengers at 160 km/h and is based entirely on Chinese developments and patents.

The world is watching Beijing’s ambitions with concern. One of them is reinventing the railroad. Not a year goes by without new superlatives from the Middle Kingdom. The first high-speed trains are now being assembled there, sliding on an electrically generated magnetic cushion. A train was presented that glides on permanent magnets without consuming electricity. And the new year also began with a premiere: the world’s first hydrogen train left the production hall in Xinjin, Chengdu.

Emission-free technology from China

The train is intended as an urban feeder and not for long-distance traffic. He takes over developments of the Fuxing trains, they were developed for long-distance routes at high speeds. While the Fuxing trains can reach 400 km/h, the new train only reaches 160 km/h – for China this is a normal value when it comes to commuter trains. The range of a full tank should be 600 kilometers. The Fuxing trains were developed entirely in China, avoiding western patents and suppliers. It will be similar with the hydrogen train. This is how Beijing protects itself from US government sanctions. However, the aim is also to usher in a new era of rail transport, the rules and standards of which will be controlled by China.

The train was jointly developed and built by CRRC Changchun and Chengdu Railway Group and can carry 1500 passengers. The actual motors work electrically, the electricity required comes from a hydrogen fuel cell and is boosted by supercapacitors. As with all hydrogen drives, there are no emissions, the system only emits water.

Cheaper switch to diesel routes

The special feature here is the drive by hydrogen. Hydrogen is considered the fuel of the future. The gas is artificially generated and can be produced entirely from green energy. The gas is not easy to handle, but in principle it can be stored, preserved and transported like natural gas. Hydrogen would therefore be a way of decoupling green energy from the place and time of production.

In motor vehicles, there have been such attempts for a long time. For passenger cars, the cost of the fuel cell is a problem. In addition, a network of hydrogen filling stations must be set up if the drive is to become attractive. With a “closed” system such as rail transport, the supply can be solved more easily. On the railway, the extra effort involved in converting electricity to gas and then back to electricity is offset because the train’s tracks do not require overhead wires. When building maglev trains, the main challenges are the supply of the current for the magnetic field and the associated magnets in the track.

A hydrogen train, on the other hand, only needs normal tracks, and the construction of the network would be much cheaper. Routes that have not yet been electrified could be converted from diesel to green energy without any effort.

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