Season 7 - Hydrogen trains

Episode 4 - Will our children take hydrogen trains?

This time, it’s clear: the hydrogen plane is neither an overly impulsive crush, nor a failed love story. It’s the kind of relationship that’s been inflated and exaggerated. It was posited as a great American romantic comedy, when it was just a beautiful, long friendship. Have we lost you with all these love metaphors? Essentially, the hydrogen train has been – and still is – seen as the easiest overall way to decarbonise rail travel. The idea would be to replace diesel rolling stock with this new type of propulsion. Except that those who threw themselves into it, like the German state of Lower Saxony, quickly reverted because of the staggering costs generated by this rapid change in technology.

As discussed in previous editions, the green hydrogen production sector will only be able to provide the necessary quantities in 2035. According to Emmanuel Bensadoun, head of the Expertise/Studies division of France Hydrogène, the hydrogen train will only constitute part of the overall decarbonisation of the network in France. This is confirmed by Charles Foncin, hydrogen engineer at SNCF. Indeed, according to “projections based on the increase in rail traffic and the performance of different decarbonisation solutions,” the historic French operator will only use 420 tonnes of hydrogen per year by 2030 and 18 kilotons per year in 2050. As for the machines using them, there should be between 200 and 300 by 2035, and 2000 by 2050. As Foncin says: “it’s not only a question of passenger trains, but also of SNCF Réseau work vehicles and goods transport vehicles.” Plus, with certain technological leaps, such as liquid hydrogen, “it could be possible to boost these figures.

That gives us dates to future gaze with (and ones that keep cropping up in this newsletter): 2035 and 2050. They come up so much that we’re beginning to wonder if they can be all that prophetic. Or perhaps, based on all the decarbonisation technology that still needs to arrive, they’re just not far enough away… In short, here are some projections for the deadlines:

In 2035, when the SNCF has 200-300 trains powered by hydrogen:

  • The temperature will have increased by at least 1.5°C and heatwave episodes will extend into autumn or even winter.
  • The start of the school year will take place in December, so students don’t melt during sports lessons.
  • Textbooks will double as fans so you can cool down, while swotting up on French history.
  • Most of the hydrogen from the new trains will be used to power a cooling system for passenger cars.

In 2050, when the SNCF has 2000 trains powered by hydrogen:

  • Water levels will rise from 28cm to 63cm, so as well as learning the highway code, students will get their boat licences in middle school.
  • After hydrogen trains, rail operators will order hydrogen ferries to continue transporting passengers.
  • The temperature will have increased by 2.8°C and the best wines in the world will be produced in England and Denmark.
  • Bordeaux and Burgundy will have converted to the production of the clearest rosé possible, which should be sipped with plenty of ice cubes.

Midnight Trains Logo