Talgo: Our Hydrogen Train Will Be Ready in 2023

Spanish rolling stock manufacturer Talgo says its hydrogen train will be ready in 2023.

In 2021 it will start validation testing the technology, after which it will start installing it between 2021 and 2023. The train will be called Talgo Vittal-One, which Talgo says is a reference to hydrogen’s atomic number. Talgo unveiled the details of its plans at the event ‘Renewable hydrogen: an opportunity for Spain’, which was organised by the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.

During the presentation, José María Oriol, CEO, Talgo, said:

“Green hydrogen is no longer the future, it is a reality. The implementation of hydrogen train, such as the one Talgo is developing, will improve mobility in our country and have a positive impact on the environment. It will allow us to make the most of the non-electrified Spanish railways while reducing our carbon footprint.”

Talgo has designed its fuel cell technology in a modular manner so that it can be installed on all types of trains and allow diesel trains to be switched to hydrogen operation. However, Talgo has designed its solution with its Vittal platform in mind. Talgo is hoping to win a number of tenders in Spain and other countries with this commuter and regional train.

Talgo unveils its hydrogen train the Vittal-One
Talgo unveils its hydrogen train the Vittal-One

How Clean Is Hydrogen?

It is important to note that a train powered by hydrogen does not contribute to reducing emissions on its own. The source of the hydrogen fuel is important. If, as is still frequently the case, the hydrogen is made by splitting methane into hydrogen and carbon dioxide through the addition of water, then the carbon emissions associated with this hydrogen are still quite severe.

The ‘greener’ option is electrolysis, where electricity (ideally excess electricity from renewable sources) is used to split water into its constituent parts. This then means electricity is used to make hydrogen so that the hydrogen can power fuel cells which in turn generate electricity, which is wasteful, but if that initial electricity would have gone to waste, then this is acceptable.

What hydrogen trains do do of course, is eliminate emissions where they are operating, thereby improving the air quality for residents, passenger and staff where they operate.

The Talgo Vittal-One

In its statement Talgo implied the hydrogen used on its trains would be the cleaner kind produced via electrolysis. However, it is hard to see how this is a decision Talgo would make. Talgo has not said anything about getting into the hydrogen-production market for example.

Talgo says that “Unlike the extended battery systems in the automotive industry, hydrogen (H2) technology is the logical answer to the needs of heavy transport and, in particular, of those railway lines that do not have catenary electrification systems, and which today depend on trains powered by diesel engines. The hydrogen system designed by Talgo enables conventional network lines to be ‘electrified’ without the need for costly and lengthy adaptation operations, and without the use of fossil fuels.”

It is certainly positive that diesel trains can be converted to a traction technology that does not generate emissions in use. However, it should not be considered the end point, but rather as a transition technology with full-scale electrification the ultimate aim.

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