The state-owned public transport company responsible for introducing the world’s first hydrogen-only railway line last year has effectively ruled out using any more H2 trains, saying that battery-electric models “are cheaper to operate”.
LNVG, which is owned by the government of Lower Saxony, had invested more than €93m ($85m) in 14 hydrogen fuel-cell trains, which began operating in August 2022.
The federal government also contributed a further €8.4m — €4.3m of which was spent on the world’s first H2 train refuelling station, built by Linde in the town of Bremervörde.
Two Alstom Coradia iLint hydrogen trains had been tested on the line — between Cuxhaven and Buxtehude — since 2018, when they became the first ever H2 trains put into commercial operation.
However, the Lower Saxony government has now announced that it will replace the remainder of its diesel trains by 2037, not with any hydrogen models, but with 102 battery-electric “multiple units” — a tender for which will be held this year — and a further 27 non-battery electric trains on one particular route that will be completely electrified (Osnabrück – Oldenburg).
The state’s Ministry for Economic Affairs, Transport, Building and Digitisation explains that battery trains can be powered by overhead electricity lines (ie, catenary systems), or be charged by what it calls “charging islands” — and can operate without constant contact with the overhead cables.
“The basis for the purchase of the new battery-powered is market research into alternative drives, which LNVG carried out,” the ministry said in a statement. “In particular, trains with hydrogen drives and batteries were considered. Result: battery trains are cheaper to operate.”
The battery-electric trains would begin operation in 2029, on the two Heidekreuz lines, and rolled out from there until LVNG’s entire network is diesel-free.
Like elsewhere in Germany, the state-owned public transport company is responsible for ordering, planning and coordinating local transport services, including buying the rolling stock, but it licenses the operation of the trains and lines to private companies, usually via tenders.
Last August, when the new hydrogen train line — run by the transport company EVB — became operational, the Minister-President of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil, declared: “This project is a role model worldwide, it is an excellent example of a successful transformation made in Lower Saxony.
“As a country of renewable energies, we are thus setting a milestone on the way to climate neutrality in the transport sector."
But LNVG did point out at the time: “Depending on the circumstances on non-electrified route networks, LNVG will decide whether to use hydrogen or battery-powered trains there.”
It is worth noting that LNVG is not responsible for the railway lines across the entire state of Lower Saxony. The Hanover region is responsible for the area around the state capital, while the southeastern region of Braunschweig has a separate association responsible for local transport called Regionalverband Großraum Braunschweig.