Saudi Arabia Railways starts hydrogen train tests with Alstom
Saudi Arabia Railways (SAR) and French rolling stock manufacturer Alstom will start testing the Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell train in the Saudi capital Riyadh this month. It will be the first time a hydrogen train will run in the Middle East.
The tests follow SAR and Alstom signing of a memorandum of understanding in September 2022 to make hydrogen trains that were suitable for use in Saudi Arabia. Alstom’s hydrogen-powered passenger train will run on a section of 10 to 20 kilometres on Riyadh’s East Network’s Line 1 or Line 2 as a trial.
Saudia Arabia has one electrified railway line, the Haramain high-speed rail line that links Makkah, Jeddah and Madinah in the western part of the country. All other lines are non-electrified and with diesel trains running on them. The East Network’s passenger line is a 733-kilometre double-track line that connects the capital Riyadh to Dammam through Al-Ahsa and Abqaiq. The East train fleet currently consists of 102 diesel locomotives and 75 passenger cars.
“This is a remarkable milestone in the history of Saudi Arabia Railways and Alstom”, said Mohamed Khalil, Managing Director of Alstom in Saudi Arabia. “Hydrogen trains hold immense potential in reducing carbon emissions and providing a viable alternative to diesel trains for non-electrified lines. This is a major stepping stone in co-developing hydrogen-powered train systems for operations suitable for and meeting the increasing capacity needs of the Kingdom and SAR networks. We are committed to working with SAR in their drive to support the Kingdom’s engagements on clean energy and a net-zero target by 2060.”
The country has set out a slower path than other countries, the EU for example aims to be climate-neutral ten years earlier, by 2050. Saudi Arabia, a country known for its oil exports and not for being a climate frontrunner, did ratify the Paris Climate Agreement however, which was adopted in 2015 and pursues to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
It has not been announced what the source of the hydrogen used for the trials is, and whether it is produced with electricity. As of the end of 2021, almost 47 per cent of the global hydrogen production is from natural gas, 27 per cent from coal, 22 per cent from oil (as a by-product) and only around 4 per cent comes from electrolysis. Electricity had a global average renewable share of about 33 per cent in 2021, which means that only about 1 per cent of global hydrogen output is produced with renewable energy, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Back in 2013, the Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO) was considering electrifying Main Line 1, which connects the capital Riyadh with Dammam. Consultancy Dornier Group was commissioned to carry out a feasibility study on the electrification. The results of this study are not published online, but with hydrogen train trials commencing, it seems electrification is not a priority.