by guest blogger Stan Thompson
The University of Rome II at Tor Vergata hosted the Thirteenth International Hydrail Conference the week of June 4, 2018, and it was a delightful success! Professor Stefano Cordiner and his colleagues saw that the Conference ran like a well-oiled clock (Tutto era semplicemente perfetto! Grazie!).
The IHC’s have come a long way since the first—in 2005—suggested that hydrogen fuel cell trains were feasible and desirable. Now Austria, China, Canada, The Czech Republic (with Latvia), Germany, Italy, South Korea, the UK and probably Japan all have hydrail projects underway. China and Germany have hydrail factories in production. Germany’s first hydrail train goes into public revenue service in Lower Saxony this summer.
The 13-IHC presentations are now online … but the Roman evening dinner discussions are the subject of this blog.
Several of the European conferees proposed that a formal, non-profit organization is needed to boost hydrail’s momentum between Conferences. They also suggested that national, or regional, hydrail associations are needed to focus government-industry-citizen activity, using the international organization to maximize synergies among them. That’s a great idea!
A framework for this arrangement is already forming spontaneously. Last fall, Canada’s Province of Ontario convened a Hydrail Symposium that drew over 200 participants. Since between Ballard and Hydrogenics, Canada produces virtually all the fuel cells used in trains today, a Canadian national hydrail organization could be among the first. But the first speaker in Toronto was Dr. Sunita Satyapal of the US Department of Energy and the US DOT now has a hydrail point person. Perhaps it’s time for a North American hydrail association.
Germany’s National Association for Hydrogen—NOW—has a full-time coordinator for hydrogen vehicles overseeing the National Implementation Programme that includes hydrail. Some 60 German trains are on order and at least that many more are expected to be needed for Schleswig-Holstein alone. Austria is converting its Zillertal narrow-gauge line to hydrail, using Swiss Stadler equipment. A Swiss-German-Austrian hydrail association would not be surprising.
Hydrail has come a very long way since the first IHC (Charlotte-2005) suggested it was feasible and desirable. Today the biggest train manufacturers—China Railway Rolling-stock Corporation, Alstom, Siemens and Stadler—all have hydrail products in production or formally announced. (Bombardier announced first but got cold wheels!)
And yet…and yet…to the best of my knowledge, in the 15 years since US Departments of Energy, Transportation and Defense began hydrail planning in 2003, not one national American newspaper has taken note of the existence of hydrail technology; Turkey, yes…but America, no.
The current buzz about fake news has drowned out something just as sinister that search engines make much easier to authenticate: fake silence.