This is a first in France: this Wednesday, February 1, an Alstom train running on hydrogen began its tests on the Tours-Loches line. 3 days of round trips to test this new technology on the SNCF network, a national first. The objective is both technical and commercial, with the Centre-Val de Loire region showing great interest in replacing its diesel trains, which currently make up 17% of its TER Rémi fleet. But you will still have to wait several years before you can get into it…
“Today I am a happy mayor” insists Marc Angenault. The elected Lochois speaks from the station platform, literally crowded. On site there are plenty of mayors from Sud-Touraine, Senator Pierre Louault, MP Henri Alfandari, President of the Regional Council François Bonneau, SNCF teams and Alstom employees. All this crowd came to discover the Coradia iLint, the first model of train requiring only hydrogen to run. A technology developed by Alstom, one of the main manufacturers in the world (the TGV, it is him, the tram of Tours too).
54m long, the Coradia iLint can carry 140 to 150 passengers and travel up to 140km/h. It is modern so has spaces for bicycles or toilets adapted for disabled people. Composed of two cars, it is already circulating around Frankfurt in Germany, as well as in the region of Lower Saxony. It was not the national company Deutsche Bahn who ordered it but a private operator. 40 models have been acquired, and fifteen are already on track.
The Culmination of a 9-Year Project
Authorized to circulate with our neighbors since 2018, Alstom’s hydrogen train only really transported its first passengers in the summer of 2022. The culmination of a 9-year industrial project intended to modernize a train model regional already in circulation on the German and Austrian rails. Available in a configuration with two cars, it can also be developed in a larger version of 3 boxes, and soon perhaps in a model of a single box for small lines. Its autonomy is 700-800km. He even completed a day at 1,150km during a resistance test.
Technically, the tanks are located on the roof and the batteries under the train. These are supplied live during the journey. And on arrival the water produced on the course is released (it’s a bit noisy, but no more than the engine of a diesel train or the motor of a TGV which cools). After Touraine, the train will be cut in two then embarked on a boat for similar tests in Canada, a country where electrified lines are not that at all. Proof that the process is of interest everywhere.
The Enthusiasm of Elected Officials
“The objective is to have it” pleaded the mayor of Loches who wants to boost his rail link to Tours. Going from 2 daily round trips to 6 is good but it’s not enough for him. “We need this connection to the Metropolis because we have 8,500 people leaving Lochois every day, for only 4,000 entering. We must therefore take a step forward (to decarbonize these journeys, which are mainly made for work). The President of the Regional Council agrees. François Bonneau talks about the “train of tomorrow” or even a “new horizon” which could revolve around a regional hydrogen production sector being created in Sorigny, Blois or Vendôme.
But then when will there be hydrogen trains with passengers in the Centre-Val de Loire, and in particular from Tours to Loches? We had to relaunch François Bonneau on the subject. After a long response full of waffle, the chosen one ended up conceding that it was rather on a horizon of 5 years. Our region will therefore not be the first to use hydrogen as a technology for trains, Alstom is currently adapting Régiolis models so that they are able to run in an electric version on lines with catenaries and via hydrogen instead diesel on the portions of their journeys not yet electrified. Commissioning is scheduled for 2025.
With us, we will have to wait for a call for tenders. Then the production of the oars. When asked, François Bonneau did not say when he would embark on this adventure of several tens or even several hundred million euros. We just know that he had a time of negotiations in Loches with the president of Alstom. And that he hopes to completely get out of railway diesel by 2035. The ambition would also be to extend the Tours-Loches line to Châteauroux. It was mentioned in the speeches, at least until Buzançay at first, and at least for freight. But that again, it requires finding very large sums. Knowing that there is also the Touraine RER development project, one wonders if it will not be necessary to end up establishing a schedule of priorities.
This article is originally published on 37degres-mag.fr