Discussion related to commuter rail and transit operators in California past and present including Los Angeles Metrolink and Metro Subway and Light Rail, San Diego Coaster, Sprinter and MTS Trolley, Altamont Commuter Express (Stockton), Caltrain and MUNI (San Francisco), Sacramento RTD Light Rail, and others...

Moderator: lensovet

  by Jeff Smith
Testing of Hydrogen Cell ZEMU at the DOT Transportation Technology Center (TTC) in Pueblo, Colo Railway Age
First U.S. Hydrogen Powered Passenger Trainset Testing at TTC
Stadler ZEMU
Hydrogen-powered trains have been in service in Germany since 2018 and have completed trials in several other European countries. In 2019, Stadler US Inc. (a U.S. subsidiary of Swiss train manufacturer Stadler Rail) was awarded a contract from San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) to deliver the first-in-the-U.S. hydrogen-powered trainset with an option to order four more in the future. The train is called the ZEMU, for “Zero Emission Multiple Unit.”

The ZEMU uses a combination of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries for propulsion. Electrical power is created by combining hydrogen with oxygen in on-board fuel cells. The reaction between hydrogen and oxygen produces purified water and heat. When the ZEMU operates, it emits only water vapor, meaning cleaner air and less global warming. When the hydrogen itself is produced by green methods, the total system can achieve zero carbon emissions.

The ZEMU consists of two cars with a power module in between that holds the hydrogen tanks and fuel cells that generate electricity for the traction motors. The trainset has seating space for 108 passengers in addition to generous standing room, and can transport passengers with a maximum speed of up to 79 mph. It is expected to start operation as part of the Arrow service between San Bernardino and Redlands, Calif. in 2024.
  by lensovet
Completed trials and then never run. What a boondoggle. You want sustainable trains, put up catenary already like every other modern country in the world does.
  by RandallW
What do mean "Completed trials and then never run"? Testing for the Hydrogen units began at TTC this week, and wasn't expected to last just a day, not ended years ago and the Arrow service this is intended for has been using the same design equipment but with diesel instead of hydrogen engines since it opened almost a year ago.

As for "every modern country", Germany and the United Kingdom both have standard classes of ZEMUs in use to avoid cost prohibitive electrification.
  by lensovet
I mean that all they did was run some trials but never bothered putting these things into production or regular usage.

It's disingenuous to call these ZEMUs, given that the hydrogen is going to be produced from natural gas. If you're using solar or wind to generate it, conversion losses mean that it would be much more effective to put that power into the grid directly, instead of dealing with the transformational losses (this is just physics).

The only place that had any real semblance of regular hydrogen service has killed it after less than a year, lol: https://qz.com/the-dream-of-the-first-h ... 1850712386
  by dowlingm
Where would San Bernadino get its hydrogen from, and what is its comparative cost per train-mile? Is there anything about that district which makes it cheaper/more convenient to obtain than elsewhere? I am trying to keep an open mind but the practical disadvantages of hydrogen as an efficient transportation fuel are non-trivial and consume capital and operating funds in infrastructure and personnel training which could be sunk into deploying additional conventional vehicles.
  by RandallW
If (and I think it is) the goal is to have a zero [local] emissions [from vehicle] train, then the only options that have any kind of mainstream testing are hydrogen, battery, or overhead catenary. If there is also a goal (or a funding opportunity based on such a goal) to have an alternative clean vehicle technology to batteries (there are strong strategic reasons for the USA to want an alternative) then beginning to build out a hydrogen fuel infrastructure has to start somewhere.

While I understand that the predominant methods for producing hydrogen today use fossil fuels, just like the power grid, it is not only possible, but likely that hydrogen production will become less dependent on fossil fuels over time, meaning that vehicles and off grid systems that rely on hydrogen become greener as the fuel source becomes greener, so using hydrogen trainsets is a way to have a trainset that can incrementally become greener without replacing or rebuilding the trainset.
  by west point
let us be skeptical. There are going to be agencies around the US that will for any number of reasons try new methods of any type of service the agencies provide. Capital grants can mean a lot. Only later will they either find operating costs are positive or a very negative. That realization may happen 5 - 10 years in the future long after original decision makers are gone. So, I say let them find out why worry?
  by lensovet
Because at the end of the day it's our money that's being wasted on this boondoggle and that money could have been put toward installing catenary instead, which is a tried and true technology that is more efficient by definition.

It's just simple physics. You can either use electricity to create hydrogen and compress it, or you can use that same electricity to directly drive the train. Guess which one wastes less energy?
  by lpetrich
Why hydrogen? It's part of moving away from fossil fuels.

The usual industrial process for making it is Steam reforming - Wikipedia
With heat and catalysts,
CH4 + H2O -> CO + 3H2

That, of course, uses fossil fuels, so what is the renewable-energy connection? Most sources in common use produce electricity, like those being researched and also nuclear reactors. So to extend the reach of renewable-energy sources to fuels and chemical feedstocks, it is necessary to make hydrogen. This is done with Electrolysis - Wikipedia
With electricity:
2H2O -> O2 + 2H2

It is possible to make other materials with electrolysis, like ammonia, but so far, hydrogen has gotten the most attention.

Hydrogen can be used as a feedstock to make ammonia (Haber-Bosch process), (oxy)hydrocarbons (Fischer-Tropsch process), etc., and it can also be used as a fuel, either burned, or in a fuel cell. But it's awkward to store, since its boiling point is very very low: 20 K or -253 C or -424 F.

Ammonia and methanol are much easier to store. Ammonia's boiling point is -33 C / 28 F, and methanol's is 65 C / 148 F. So might we soon be hearing about ammonia or methanol as a fuel?

I must point out that their energy density is a little less than half that of hydrocarbon fuels. Energy density - Wikipedia That may make them awkward as diesel-fuel alternatives.
  by electricron
Someone has to be the guinea pig and test these new technologies in a service environment. A FLIRT is an excellent choice because if the hydrogen power plant fails, it can be replaced just by replacing the power unit section of the multiple unit.
The have only bought four FLIRTs, and only one is using a hydrogen power unit. It is not like they bought a whole fleet of hydrogen FLIRTs.