Greening the Rails

Rail travel produces more than a third less emissions than road transport. Pictured is yard switcher being converted by Rail Power to hybrid-fuel cell power.

Published: 31-Aug-2008

Several companies are exploring hydrogen fuel cells to power trains. Such 'hydrail' trains are essentially electric but would not need the usual trackside infrastructure. And, unlike diesel trains, fuel-cell-powered trains produce no emissions other than water. Fuel cells produce electric current by combining hydrogen fuel with ambient oxygen using catalytic electrochemical reactions. East Japan Railways has already tested a hybrid fuel-cell train (pictured) on one of its passenger lines and Canada is planning to develop fuel-cell trains in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Europe's first hydrogen-fuelled train is likely to run in Denmark. According to Claus Torbensen, one of the Danish founders of The Hydrogen Train project, such trains could eventually produce zero net emissions. The current problem is that most hydrogen is produced from methane. So although the first fuel-cell trains have to rely on non-sustainable sources of hydrogen, the eventual goal is to power them using hydrogen made through renewable energy, such as by splitting water using wind-turbine-powered electrolysis.

Steaming back to the future


The proposed Transbay Transit Center with its possible 1,200-foot tower, elevated public park the length of five football fields and room for high-speed trains someday linking California's major cities.

Pictured is computer 3D visualization of proposed San Francisco Transbay high-speed rail terminal. The House bill, approved 311-104, cites the Northeast corridor as one for which the Transportation Department might consider high-speed proposals, but the legislation adds that other projects might be considered as well.

Quebec-based Bombardier manufacturers high-speed electric trains.

The report proposes 560 kilometres of high-speed electric track, as well as shift to plug-in hybrid cars.


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