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Hydrail commercializing: the 2015 Mooresville conference

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

For ten years now, the Appalachian State University and Mooresville NC originators of the International Hydrail Conference series have predicted, explained and advocated hydrogen railway traction. Now, like a teenager suddenly outgrowing all her clothes, hydrail is coming of age—commercially and with a vengeance!

This is the theme of 10-IHC, the Tenth International Hydrail Conference, held later this month (June 22-23) in two of the Conference originators’ home town, Mooresville NC—better known for now as the home of  NASCAR race team shops.

Last year at 9IHC in Neumünster, Germany, one of the speakers actually brought a locomotive for conferees to inspect. A few of us even got to ride it. It wasn’t a hydrail locomotive but, by my reckoning, something more promising.

It was Vossloh’s (Kiel, Germany) D18, which their presenter described as future-proof“Easy integration of future technology such as electrical energy storage, fuel cell, multiple engine or dual mode [are] upgrades possible and foreseen.”  As a retired planner of technology evolution in a very large capital industry, I noted  that designing a locomotive for a future energy environment must add appreciably to the original price point. That competitive penalty would not have been acceptable unless the different future which Vossloh envisions goes far beyond a hedged bet. Their prescience will not be lost on GE Evolution® and Caterpillar Electro-Motive designers.

Since 9IHC last year, TIG/m Modern Street Railways of Chatsworth, California, has rolled out a second hydrail streetauto line in Dubai City—one terminus of which is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.  This follows TIG/m’s world’s first hydrail streetauto connecting the cruise boat terminal in Aruba, Caribbean Netherlands, with the national capital, Oranjestad.  TIG/m’s President, Brad Read, will introduce the Dubai and Aruba systems to conferees at 10-IHC in Mooresville.

On the other side of the world, China South Railways’ Qingdao Sifang manufacturing division has rolled out their first hydrail tram—an innovation they plan to expand rapidly to help counter the country’s alarming urban air quality problems. Dr. Weirong Chen described China’s first hydrail locomotive, the “Blue Sky,” at 8IHC in Toronto, Canada, in 2013.

Also at 8IHC, Darryl Wilson, CEO of Hydrogenics, the world’s largest hydrogen electrolyzer and fuel cell manufacturer, to the hydrail market. This year’s 10-IHC conferees will learn more about Hydrogenics’ $50-million sale of fuel cells to train builder Alstom Transport for Germany’s first fleet of 40 regional hydrail trains.  Alstom first proposed their fuel cell battery hybrid train nine years ago at 2IHC—Mooresville’s Second International Hydrail Conference in Herning, Denmark!

These are the hydrail commercialization projects that have been publicized.  But, now that the path has been blazed, I look forward to revival (before the hydrogen-highlighting Tokyo Olympics) of the two hydrail tram designs that Japan pioneered circa 2005.  The tram Spain’s FEVE  had ready to roll in Asturias before the Iberian economy crashed may now find its postponed track rehab.  And the two-train commuter system from Vemb to Thyborön in Jutland, Demark, which was to have been powered by a single wind turbine, may now reawaken.

Who knows how many other hydrail visions—too bashful to go first—may roll out of the woodwork, now that the “show me the money” threshhold has been crossed?

For registration or speaker information about the year’s 10-IHC, visit Appalachian State University’s web page, .



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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