“Görlitz bekommt die erste Wasserstoff-Straßenbahn Europas” – “Görlitz will get the first hydrogen tram in Europe” the article claims. It might as well be entitled “Görlitz has decided to go for the most stupid public transport idea imaginable”
It’s not only that a hydrogen tram is stupid, it’s that doing this in Görlitz is extra stupid.
Let’s take a step back a moment, and take this apart piece by piece.
The most efficient way – environmentally – to electrify any railway or tramway is with an overhead wire. The problem comes whether this works economically – the investment costs to build the wires mean this makes sense predominantly in areas with reasonable amounts of traffic and over short distances. I have examined all of this in more depth here.
If you do not want to build overhead wires – because it does not make sense economically – you have two alternatives, broadly. Diesel is out because it emits CO2, so you can use batteries or hydrogen.
Batteries are proven, energy efficient, but are heavy – so work best for short to medium distances, and in situations where part of the route has overhead wires. Hydrogen has the advantage that its storage is lighter, meaning over long distances it might make sense – even though the lower energy efficiency of fuel cells compared to batteries is a problem. And hydrogen vehicles have to be powered that way even if there is an overhead wire over part of the route.
So then… a hydrogen tram.
Trams. Short distances. Regular traffic. And in Görlitz the whole network is electrified with an overhead wire. Now you might say, OK, perhaps Görlitz builds some new line – but were that to be the case – you should electrify that too, or if you wanted to not do that, batteries would obviously be the better bet – because the tram would charge while on the rest of the route, and run with a battery on the last bit without the overhead wire. This article indicates the hydrogen tram for Görlitz will run on the regular tram network. Remember: short distances – which is what a tram does – batteries are better than hydrogen, and with regular traffic an overhead wire is likely best of all. So a hydrogen tram is stupid.
But what about a tram-train?
This is the situation in cities like Karlsruhe and Kassel where vehicles run as trams in the city and then use regular railway lines further out into the country.
But this cannot work in Görlitz as the tram lines in Görlitz are 1000mm gauge, and railway lines 1435mm standard gauge – and as no-one has engineered a dual gauge tram, that is not going to be possible here. So why would you use a tram-like vehicle only on railway lines around Görlitz? You wouldn’t.
So, to recap:
Hydrogen tram in Görlitz – makes no sense because the network is electrified, and if you added non-electrified lines, then use a battery instead
Hydrogen tram-train in Görlitz – impossible due to the different gauges
Hydrogen train in Görlitz – well, that’s a train, not a tram
So well done everyone! You have come up with an idea that makes pretty much no sense at all!