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Hydrail: Spain Leaps Ahead!

By guest blogger Stan Thompson

It’s way too easy to miss really important events in the history of hydrogen railroading if they don’t contain the magic searchable word “hydrail”. I missed a huge one last month: the demonstration of Europe’s (and perhaps the world’s) first hydrail train—or maybe the first hydrolley—now planned for regular passenger service in 2012.

The honors go to FEVE—“Ferroautoriles Españoles de Via Estrecha” (“Spanish Narrow-Gauge Railways” in English)—and a primary design contractor, CIDAUT—“Centro para la Investigación y Desarrollo en Transporte y Energía” (Center for Research and Development in Transportation and Energy).

On the 23 of September, 2011, FEVE issued a press release describing an event which, if it wasn’t as flashy as the famous driving of the Golden Spike marking the completion of the Union Pacific, was at least the European Green Spike equivalent.

That was the day when the FEVE’s President, Sr. Ángel Villarba, and Sr. Antonio de Luis Solar, Mayor of Pravia, Asturias, waited with several members of the FEVE and CIDAUT project team at the Pravia Station for the arrival of a hydrail-converted, Series 3400 railauto  on its narrow-gauge (one meter) track.

The H2 Series 3400 railauto (or tram or “tranvía”) is designed for the hilly terrain of the Principality of Asturias—Northern Spain’s ancient Kingdom of Asturias, back in the Middle Ages.

Its four traction motors are powered by lithium ion batteries, topped-up by two 12 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cells fed by a rack of twelve hydrogen tanks.

Stopping energy is recovered in the batteries via regenerative braking and reacceleration is boosted by supercapacitors, also charged during braking.

Although Taiwan’s hydrail museum train was the first by several years to haul passengers around its grounds on a regular basis, FEVE’s narrow-gauge line in Spain will be the world’s first to sell tickets on a real live hydrail passenger line.

CIDAUT’s Alberto Montes, a key member of the design team, tipped me off about FEVE’s September press release (in Spanish):

Sr. Montes has been invited to tell the story of the H2 3400 railauto conversion at the Seventh International Hydrail Conference, hosted by the Birmingham [UK] Centre for Railway Research and Education at the University of Birmingham on June 26 and 27, 2012.

About Stan Thompson

For 33 years I worked as an engineer, planner and futurist for what is now AT&T in Charlotte and Atlanta. Though I have no engineering degree, I'm a Life Member of the IEEE. Other memberships are the World Affairs Council, the local chapter of the National Association of Business Economics and the American Institute of Archaeology. (I dig international business, so to speak.)

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