France-based railway transport giant Alstom is in discussions with the UAE’s Etihad Rail to introduce hydrogen trains in the national railway network, a top company official said.

Alstom’s GCC Managing Director Tamer Salama told Zawya Projects that Etihad Rail currently uses diesel locomotives for its operations.

“They have diesel locomotives but eventually to meet targeted carbon emission reductions they would need to go for a greener solution, and hydrogen could be an option,” he said.

Alstom-supplied passenger hydrogen trains are being operated in Germany since 2018 by Deutsch Bahn (DB), which is also the operating partner of Etihad Rail through their joint venture Etihad Rail DB Operations.

Etihad Rail’s freight and passenger rail network, which will extend 1,200-kilometres across the UAE when complete, is designed around diesel traction with potential for electrification, according to the company’s fact sheet.

Salama pointed out that hydrogen could be substitute for diesel and a less costly alternative to electrification, especially on mainline routes that link big towns and cities.

“If you want zero-emission railway, you must either electrify the whole network, which increases Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) due to the time and costs involved or use hydrogen trains instead of diesel ones. With hydrogen, you can start operating the trains on the existing infrastructure.”

The Alstom executive explained that the only new infrastructure element for hydrogen trains would be production and supply of green hydrogen.

“In Europe, green hydrogen is already being used in various applications, so it is easy to transfer it to rail as well,” he said, adding that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other GCC states have all announced or are building projects to produce green hydrogen.