The train in the ‘Glasgow era’: More demand, efficiency and commitment to hydrogen

The Government wants to promote with tolls and taxes the use of the railroad compared to the plane and the car

The sector is committed to the development of ‘green’ alternatives to promote this type of transport

In the midst of the ‘Glasgow era’ towards the energy transition, the Government wants drive the train to the detriment of airplane and above all of the car, the sector that generates the most emissions, both in Spain and in Europe. But only around 7% of passengers and 11% of goods travel by rail in this country, according to data from the Ministry of Transport. The most immediate measure to boost demand is the entry of competition into the country’s three main corridors (from Madrid to Barcelona, ​​Seville and Valencia), but others such as tolls and taxes lie on the horizon. And meanwhile the sector seeks alternatives to make trains more efficient and develop cleaner technologies, such as renewable hydrogen, to replace diesel.

Among the formulas proposed by the Government in the medium term is the creation of a toll system or payment for road use in 2024 which, together with a future tax on diesel (the Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, this week diluted the implementation of this rate immediately), could discourage the current use of the car. But also “delete “short flights of less than 2.5 hours and impose a frequent traveler rate or taxes on tickets according to the proximity of the destination, as proposed by the Executive in the ‘Spain 2050’ strategy, to do the same with air connections.

The best example of a success story is the Madrid-Barcelona line, where the train meets four variables key that suppose a advantage for the user in front of the car and the plane: the time (less than three hours), the frequencies (around 17 a day), the price (with the entry of the competition, such as the French Ouigo, and the cheap Renfe AVE, AVLO, this route can be done by less than 20 euros) and, in addition, in this case also influences the type of traveler (with a lot of business trip).

But this is an exception. The rule in the whole of Spain is very different. The cases that are closest to the Madrid-Barcelona example are the Seville and Valencia, where the arrival of competition throughout 2022 will try to reduce the current price difference (both connections already have many daily frequencies and the journey lasts less than three hours) and, thus, promote their use by families (the Family trips are the great ‘Achilles heel’ of the railroad in Spain). But there are cases like Madrid-Vigo or Madrid-Almería that in addition to not improving the time in front of the car, they also do not have attractive prices and the daily frequencies are very low. There are others like him Bilbao-A Coruña that last more than 10 hours, twice as long as by car, although in this case the train is much cheaper (20 euros). Other connections as it could be Madrid-Oporto directly do not exist.

Hydrogen train

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Companies also try to do their bit to reduce emissions. The railway operator (Adif) through the track electrification. Currently, in Spain there are 9,984 kilometers of electrified tracks and 5,536 kilometers without electrification (on these routes the trains have to use diesel). Although the objective is to electrify as much as possible, there are areas (Empty Spain) in which it is not profitable and therefore it will take time to do so. In these areas, manufacturers – who work to improve the eficiency of the machines (using carbon fiber to reduce its weight, for example, or as in the case of the AVE with the design of the nose like that of an airplane after an aerodynamic study) -. They are looking for clean fuels that can replace diesel, such as hydrogen.

It is the case of hybrid train developed by Talgo, that will allow to consume electricity or hydrogen according to the section of the road. As explained Emilio Garcia, innovation director of this company, was scheduled to be validated in a laboratory train at the end of this year, but it has had to be delayed due to “parts supply problems” and it will be done in 2022. “We have tested in the Industrial Complex of Repsol in Puertollano the hydrogen traction that we will put inside the train and the result has been astonishingly successful (…) The problem is that there is still no standard to certify these facilities and no value chain, “adds García. All in all, he assures, in 2023 the hybrid Talgo will become the “first dual train of hydrogen and electricity of the world “(100% electric there is already one of Alstom in Germany).

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