Research from East Lansing’s MSU Leads to Order of First Commercial Hydrogen-powered Train in North America

Research from East Lansing-based Michigan State University’s Center for Railway Research and Education contributed to a decision to order the first commercial hydrogen-powered train for use in North America. The train will run in San Bernadino County, Calif.
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Arrow train
The San Bernadino County Transportation Authority will open the first hydrogen-powered train in North America on its new Arrow railway service. MSU researchers helped the authority decide to use the train. // Photo courtesy of the San Bernadino County Transportation Authority

Research from East Lansing-based Michigan State University’s Center for Railway Research and Education contributed to a decision to order the first commercial hydrogen-powered train for use in North America. The train will run in San Bernadino County, Calif.

The research work was completed for the San Bernadino County Transportation Authority, which was seeking low- or zero-emission options for its new Arrow railway service. It was conducted in partnership with the Birmingham Center for Railway Research and Education and Mott MacDonald. The effort was funded through a grant from the California State Transportation Agency.

“Investigating alternative fuels and powertrains for railway vehicles is one of our areas of expertise,” says Andreas Hoffrichter, Burkhardt professor in railway management and executive director of the center at MSU. “We are globally leading in this field with particular expertise in hydrogen fuel cell railway vehicles, so this project was a natural fit.”

The authority’s Arrow service will operate over a 9-mile corridor, initially powered by diesel engines before a planned introduction of the zero-emission hydrogen-powered train in 2024.

MSU’s center, housed in the Eli Broad College of Business, worked on the project over the past year. The work evaluated the suitability of various technologies, estimated emission levels, and the team conducted a cost analysis for the Arrow service.

The research also considered expansion of the service by about 60 miles, connecting San Bernadino to Los Angeles Union Station, and made recommendations based on which low- or zero-emission technology could best cover the route. Other options the researchers studied included wayside electrification, conventional diesel-electric, biofuels, natural gas, batteries, hydrogen fuel cell technology, and hybrid powertrain options.

The team’s final recommendation proposed a battery-powered train or a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid train, and the authority decided on the hydrogen option due to easier scalability and the potential larger service expansion.

The authority signed a contract on Nov. 14 with Stadler U.S. Inc. to commission the first train.

“MSU research and technical input was paramount in advancing the SBCTA (authority) board of directors’ decision to move forward with hydrogen-powered technology,” says Carrie Schindler, director of transit and rail programs for the authority. “Being in one of the worst air quality areas in the nation, projects like this are critical to SBCTA’s mission to improve the quality of life for San Bernardino County residents.”

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