Siemens and Deutsche Bahn agree test operation. Billions in business with battery and hydrogen trains expected.
Siemens enters the hydrogen-powered train business with Deutsche Bahn. An electric regional multiple unit with fuel cells is to go into trial operation in the Tübingen area in Baden-Württemberg in 2024, as the partners announced on Monday. “Our hydrogen trains can replace diesel vehicles in the long term,” said the head of the Siemens train division, Michael Peter.
The replacement of the internal combustion engine in rail traffic by vehicles with hydrogen tanks or batteries will develop into a market worth billions.
Because around 40 percent of the 33,000-kilometer DB network is not electrified, diesel multiple units are often used, especially on regional routes. According to technical director Sabina Jeschke, Deutsche Bahn does not want to use vehicles with conventional diesel in 2050 in order to be climate-neutral by then. Unlike many cars, buses and trucks, rail vehicles are often in use for decades.
“In Europe we see a market potential of 10,000 to 15,000 multiple units that will be replaced in the next ten to 15 years,” said the Siemens Mobility boss. A Mireo Plus train costs 5 to 10 million euros, depending on the equipment. “That results in a market potential of 50 billion to 150 billion euros in Europe.”
However, it remains to be seen whether vehicles with hydrogen tanks or those with batteries will prevail on the non-electrified routes. Siemens is therefore pursuing several options. “The electricity comes either from the overhead line, from the battery or from the fuel cell,” explained Peter. “Due to our modular design, we can combine these power sources in the vehicle according to customer requirements.”
The group sees itself as having an advantage over rival Alstom, which has already sold a number of regional multiple units with hydrogen fuel cells in Germany. While Alstom developed its Coradia iLint model from a diesel vehicle, the Siemens train on electrified sections of the route can also be supplied from the overhead line in order to drive and to charge the battery.
This is not the only reason why Siemens sees fewer hurdles for alternative drives on the rails than for replacing diesel vehicles on the road. “The supply infrastructure is much simpler,” said Peter. “In a regional network you only need a single filling station. The operator regularly purchases large quantities there.”
For the test operation in Tübingen, the railway wants to produce hydrogen with green traction current. Together with the Siemens energy division, Peter also wants to offer future customers complete solutions including hydrogen supply. “The Siemens group is open to us for cooperation,” said the manager.
According to Peter, there are no compromises in the performance of the hydrogen trains. “In terms of acceleration and speed, the Mireo is in no way inferior to conventional electric multiple units and is superior to diesel vehicles.”
However, hydrogen drive cannot yet compete with powerful diesel locomotives, such as those used on the non-electrified routes in North America: “I do not yet see any possible use of fuel cells for heavy freight trains such as those on American long-haul routes.”