No train manufacturers have bid into the Dutch province of Groningen’s first tender for four hydrogen-powered trains.
These trains were meant to run on the non-electrified rail network between port city Delfzijl and the town of Veendam and potentially into the municipality of Leeuwarden.
While an explicit reason for the lack of bids has not been provided, provincial administer Johan Hamster reportedly told the Groningen provincial council that “the requirements we set, for example for the furnishing, lead to quite a lot of investments in what is in principle a small assignment”.
The tender was set to cost around €66m in total for the four trains and a refuelling station, for which the national government would have stumped up €15m and the European Investment Bank €20m.
Groningen had previously trialled a Coradia iLint train manufactured by Alstom prior to launching the tender in November 2022.
Alstom has declined to confirm to Hydrogen Insight how much each of its trains would cost.
Previous government purchases in Germany for Alstom hydrogen-powered trains have ranged from €93m for 14 units to €500m for 27. However, since these tenders included costs beyond the rolling stock, the actual unit cost per train cannot be extrapolated from these figures.
However, Groningen’s provincial government has not abandoned H2 trains, reportedly suggesting that it will consider renting units to run on its railways from 2027. This already represents a delay to its target to start running fuel-cell trains from 2025, which had been included in its 2023 budget.
A spokesperson for the provincial government, which aims to have only zero-emissions trains operating in Groningen by 2035, tells Hydrogen Insight that a study it had conducted in 2018 found that “both full and partial electrification will be more expensive than the hydrogen variant”.
“In addition, the electrification of the railway lines (fully or not) takes a very long time. As a result, passengers will have to deal with long shutdowns of the lines,” the spokesperson added.
“The construction, management and maintenance of overhead lines also requires a lot of specialist personnel,” they noted, adding that “this staff is scarce”.
Ireland’s national rail operator has also cited H2 trains as an interim solution to meet 2030 climate targets given the substantial amount of time it takes to install overhead lines, widen railway corridors, and and build substations for electrified railways.
However, the German state of Baden-Württemberg calculated in its own assessment that electrifying its railways and operating battery-powered trains could result in lower costs than hydrogen alternatives in the long-term.
Updated on 26 January following response from Alstom on cost of Coradia iLint.
Updated on 29 January with further detail on Groningen’s rail decarbonisation strategy.