World’s First Hydrogen-Powered Light Rail to Be Built in Austria’s Zillertal

The popular tourist region in Tyrol has decided to replace its existing diesel system with a hydrogen-powered light rail, a world premiere on narrow gauge tracks.

Soaring peaks, glistening glaciers and lush pastures – that’s why people flock to Tyrol’s Zillertal. And flock they do, in droves. With more than 4.5 million overnight stays every year, the valley 40 km east of Innsbruck is Tyrol’s most important tourist destination, accounting for over 16% of total visitor numbers in the Bundesland.

The region thus has ample experience balancing the demands of mass tourism and preserving and protecting the nature that draws the visitors in the first place. And now it aims to take responsibility in the fight against climate change: The Zillertal Railway will be the world’s first narrow-gauge railway to run on hydrogen.

“Yes, we are breaking new ground with the conversion of the Zillertal Railway from diesel to hydrogen,” said Franz Hörl, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Zillertaler Verkehrsbetriebe (ZVB). “But anyone who wants to play a role in the future must go new ways and turn visions into reality.”

Three Years to Go

If everything goes according to plan, regular operation is to start as early as 2022. The timetable up to that point is ambitious. From testing a prototype to tendering the railcars and setting up the hydrogen production plant, a lot still has to happen.

The Zillertal Railway is an independently operated 32-km track running along the valley of the river Ziller, between Jenbach and Mayrhofen. It was originally opened on July 31, 1902, and has become somewhat of a destination for train enthusiasts due to its small track gauge and its occasional use of steam engines. The railway transports over 2.9 million passengers annually including commuters and tourists. Most of the passenger trains these days, however, are diesel-run locomotives and railcars, consuming up to 800,000 liters of fuel – almost 30 truck tankers – per year. That adds up to annual CO2 emissions of 2,160 tons.

The choice was between switching to classical electrical overhead lines or hydrogen-electric operation. And given the Zillertal’s unique position in the midst of the Alps, the choice was made for the latter. “Thirty percent of the hydropower generated in Tyrol comes from the Zillertal. We have nine hydropower plants and five reservoirs,” explained deputy regional governor of Tyrol, Josef Geissler.

Hydrogen For Future

Hydrogen or H2 is a clean fuel generated by a process called electrolysis with water and electricity. The new hydrogen train will require 1.8 times more energy than a classic overhead electrical line – but since hydrogen production can take place at off-peak times and is 100% clean, the project still makes both economic and environmental sense. In fact, every hydrogen train kilometer will be six percent cheaper than the classic alternative. And once set up and running, diesel buses in the region could also be switched to hydrogen as fuel over time.

The new hydrogen railway, including the necessary infrastructure, will require an investment of around €80 million upfront. The vehicles have a technical service life of 30 years; by 2040, the ZVB expects passenger numbers will have increased to 4.9 million annually. The project initiators also hope for a positive signaling effect, kicking off or inspiring other green mobility projects.

In these times of Fridays for Future, it may be small places like the Zillertal that point the way to a sustainable future that can actually preserve those glistening glaciers and lush pastures for a long time to come.

Benjamin Wolf
Benjamin studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history.Photo: Visual Hub

Help us help you

“Strong media and independent journalism are built on the shoulders of subscribers. Your support means the world to us.

Benjamin Wolf
COO & Managing Editor

The coronavirus outbreak affects and challenges your life in big and small ways. Metropole is here for you and we are proud to be your news source during this crisis.

But just as the coronavirus has increased the need for independent journalism, it has also undercut a major revenue source of media companies, ours included – advertising.

We need your support to keep it up – donate or subscribe and #helpushelpyou!

Support Metropole!


 

RECENT Articles

In Corona Time, So Few Sniffles!

A silver lining for COVID-19 has been how well we are preventing the common cold.

Vienna’s Ultimate Swimming Pool Guide

It will be a summer like no other. This year due to Corona, many Viennese will opt to spend a good part of their holiday in the city. Lucky for us, there are few better places for relaxing in the shade and swimming in pools or rivers than Vienna.

The Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna | School Vacations Started

With summer approaching, new challenges await Austria in dealing with the coronavirus. Here’s all you need to know about current measures and developments, including trusted sources and tips – regularly updated.

Liberal Freedom and Its Flip Side

The renewed struggle against discrimination is really two struggles: one about rights, the other about opinion.

Taste of India | Keep Calm and Curry On

Nestled in the 3rd district, The Taste of India’s second location serves authentic North Indian cuisine in a cozy atmosphere, balancing food and feeling.

Traditional Brand Icons and the New Sensitivities of Race

The worldwide Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has now spilled over onto the supermarket shelves. A look at Austria’s own racially problematic icons.
 

METROPOLE NEWSLETTER

Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.