Government approves millions for hydrogen-electric rail technology of the ‘future’: ‘Only very few rail lines in the US are electrified’

March 17, 2024 | by

Swiss rail manufacturer Stadler and the state of California agreed to a $127 million deal in February that will lead to the construction of six additional zero-emission, hydrogen-powered passenger trains.

The contract supplements the initial partnership the two parties agreed to last October for four trains worth $80 million and the option to acquire 25 extra train sets. This most recent transaction brings California’s fleet of hydrogen fuel cell trains — the first in the country — to 10, with options for 19 more remaining.

“Stadler’s goal is to help make travel in North America environmentally friendly through the vehicles and services we provide. Only very few rail lines in the U.S. are electrified, which is why solutions like the FLIRT [Fast Light Intercity and Regional Train] H2 are so important here,” Stadler’s EVP of Marketing and Sales, Ansgar Brockmeyer, said in a media release from October.

The state’s investment is funded by Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s $10 billion zero-emission vehicle package, $407 million of which is dedicated to the California State Transportation Agency to purchase clean bus and rail equipment.

According to a news release from Caltrans, the state’s transportation department, these train sets are “more efficient, lighter weight and more affordable than traditional locomotive-hauled coaches.” And unlike conventional locomotives that rely on dirty energy sources, hydrogen-powered trains minimize the pollution of planet-warming gases because they produce just water and heat as byproducts.

Stadler’s FLIRT H2 vehicles are expected to begin operation in 2027. It will shuttle passengers between Merced and Sacramento on an expanded version of the Altamont Corridor Express and Amtrak San Joaquin services and will connect to California’s future high-speed rail service between Merced and Bakersfield.

Though hydrogen-based trains are novel to the U.S., Spain and Quebec have started laying the groundwork for these cleaner forms of public transportation.

“California continues to lead the way to a cleaner, more connected transportation system,” California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin said. “By expanding our fleet of hydrogen-powered passenger train sets, we are showing we are serious about deploying innovative and sustainable transportation options for the people of this state.”

“These clean-energy trains are the future. California is building a climate-resilient transportation system that will help every community move around the state in a safe and sustainable way,” Caltrans Director Tony Tavares added.

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