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Hungary set for hydrogen-powered railway system pilot project  – interview with Gáspár Balázs, Alstom Hungary’s CEO and Managing Director

On the sidelines of this year’s Budapest Hydrogen Summit, we sat down with Gáspár Balázs, CEO and Managing Director of the multinational rolling stock manufacturer, Alstom to talk about the company’s role in Hungary’s green transition – with a particular focus on hydrogen and its future in railway transportation.

Starting our discussion, we asked Alstom Hungary’s CEO about the company’s progress in developing a hydrogen-powered railway system in Hungary.

“Looking at positive trends, one of the things I would like to highlight is the new world record for range of a hydrogen-fuelled passenger train, set last year at 1,175 kilometres, a significant milestone for this technology. It was completed by Alstom’s Coradia iLint train, which is the world’s first passenger train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Being able to achieve the same range as diesel trains is a real game changer. It is fair to say that hydrogen has become a viable alternative to diesel on non-electrified railway lines,” he underlines.

However, the energy crisis has refocused priorities for Hungary, Mr Balázs says. “Hydrogen trains will have a role to play in making transportation greener, and railways are certainly a great use case for a pilot project, but the broader roll-out is part of an energy strategy that countries in Europe are reassessing very carefully based on local possibilities,” he notes.

In terms of energy trends, Mr Balázs points out that Hungary’s expected rise in energy demand – from last year’s annual consumption of 44 terawatt-hours (TWh) to 68 TWh estimated by the Ministry for Energy by 2030 – “will not position hydrogen as the full solution to additional capacity needs, however, it will certainly contribute to diversify the energy mix and act as a means of storage to level out energy demand,” he points out.

“Railways are one of the best areas to implement this technology, where together with battery trains Alstom offers a complete portfolio of green and innovative technologies to reduce emissions and pollution in catenary-free operation.”

Hungary to conduct a pilot project for a hydrogen-powered railway system

Continuing our discussion, Mr Balázs shared his company’s recent progress in hydrogen mobility. “Alstom commissioned the first hydrogen-powered train, the Coradia iLint, last Summer in Germany, for the operator LNVG. Additionally, the Frankfurt Rhine-Main transport association RMW recently placed an order for further 27 trains, and other contracts, as well as demonstration projects are underway in Italy, France and Canada,” he says.

Mr Balázs reveals that a pilot project in Hungary is already in the indicative offering phase.

“Hungary is entering the deployment of hydrogen on railways at a good pace as preparations are currently underway with Hungary’s state railways company, MÁV Start Zrt. for a pilot project for 6 trains with an option for 12 more. We have completed a preliminary market study. The next step will be an indicative offer, followed by a public procurement, which is expected to be completed as early as the end of the year.”

“Another milestone for us in 2022 was the transfer of this technology to our factory in Mátranovák that produces the bogie frames for the fuel-cell trains,” Mr Balázs highlights. “This significantly increases our local added value, as the factory currently employs 650 people. And we can also support the operator with maintenance services locally,” he adds.

As Mr Balázs tells CEENERGYNEWS, the project is expected to cover two railway routes: Hatvan – Salgótarján and/or Győr – Pápa – Celldömölk – Kaposvár. “These lines today are operated using diesel trains, so the project is well placed to prove the positive use case for the hydrogen rail system,” he highlights.

“In addition to riding on a train that has zero emissions, passengers can enjoy a vehicle that runs silently, with a major improvement on the noise and vibration compared to their diesel counterparts.”

The project is planned to be financed from Hungary’s EU Recovery and Resilience budget, which is still awaiting approval, Mr Balázs points out. The Alstom CEO believes that the lack of clarity over the timing of the release of the EU funds is the project’s biggest challenge – however, “Alstom is confident that this situation will have a positive outcome.”

Last year, Mr Balázs highlighted the importance of cooperation between hydrogen stakeholders to scale up the hydrogen economy. Since then, Alstom has partnered up with regional energy players such as Linde in Germany, Orlen in Poland, and MOL in Hungary. He concludes by saying that MOL is “currently building up a large capacity 10 megawatts (MW) electrolysis plant in Százhalombatta, which will have the capacity of producing 1600 tons of green hydrogen annually, and is expected to become operational in 2024.”

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