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Shift to Climate-Neutral Rail Transport: Battery Trains Take the Lead

Shift to Climate-Neutral Rail Transport: Battery Trains Take the Lead
photo: NAH.SH/Shift to Climate-Neutral Rail Transport: Battery Trains Take the Lead
14 / 04 / 2023

From May 2023, the first trains will be running on batteries instead of diesel in Germany. One year later, 55 multiple-unit trains will already be running climate-neutrally through the true north.

Seven environmentally friendly vehicles are already in test operation on the rails. Starting in May of next year, the battery trains will be in regular service, either between Kiel, Lübeck and Lüneburg or on the route to Kiel-Oppendorf. Then it will be one after the other. Every two weeks, two brand-new vehicles will be put on the track. If everything goes according to plan, by mid-2024, eleven rail lines with around 10.4 million train kilometres will be battery-electric. Around 40 per cent of rail traffic in Schleswig-Holstein will run on electricity instead of diesel.

Ruth Niehaus has already driven the new multiple-unit train on the test track: "The FLIRT Battery is very nimble and accelerates enormously," enthuses the NAH.SH project manager. In actual operation, too, the comfortable trains should be able to reach a maximum speed of 160 kilometres per hour. During braking, the energy is fed back. Compared to the sluggish diesel trains, the Sprinters actually open up more leeway in terms of stops and schedules. Initially, however, little is likely to change, explains Niehaus: "On the mostly single-track lines, the trains only pass each other at crossing stations." That limits the options for timetable design.

By contrast, the carbon footprint will improve significantly. From May 2024, around ten million litres of diesel will be saved year after year. The battery trains will be charged at stations with overhead wires and specially built charging stations using green electricity. According to Niehaus, an electrical engineer, that means, "In operation, we drive CO2-neutral." Rail already produces significantly lower emissions than cars. The rechargeable trains provide another argument in favour of rail: Those who want to show their attitude and be climate-friendly will be able to do so on even more routes in the true north in the future.

The switch to battery operation on a large scale is unique in Germany. Schleswig-Holstein is also considered a pioneer in the type of tender. A hydrogen drive could also have been considered, but the open tendering process only allowed bids for battery-powered vehicles. The battery-powered trains, which are just under 50 meters long, are designed for intercity service. They are not yet suitable for routes with more passengers and longer trains, such as the Marschbahn. In the medium term, therefore, some diesel trains will continue to roll through the northernmost German state. By 2030, all local rail traffic in Schleswig-Holstein is to be climate-neutral.

Source: NAH.SH