Italy’s historic Apennine railway will soon become one of the country’s first hydrogen-powered railway links.
The 300-kilometre railway link, which crosses four central Italian regions, is only partially electrified and is currently used by old diesel-powered trains. AECOM is working with Spanish renewables group Iberdrola, and Italian partners Cinque International and Ancitel Energy and Environment, to upgrade the Apennine diesel railway with hydrogen-powered trains.
AECOM is leading engineering and program management, with Iberdrola acting as an industrial partner. The scheme, promoted by AECOM in early 2018 to the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, was added to the pilot schemes for developing hydrogen-powered trains in 2021. AECOM-Iberdrola is at the forefront of the scheme’s development, which may go to market as a Public-Private Partnership scheme with funding from the NextGenerationEU funds allocated to Italy as a post-COVID-19 economic stimulus.
Ken Bagget, Australia and New Zealand Global Transit Lead, said: “AECOM’s push into hydrogen-powered trains has the potential to help inform Australia’s freight and transit sectors as we look to build a more sustainable, low carbon rail economy.
“Our ANZ Transit team will leverage our global learnings in hydrogen trains and systems, bringing them into our regional context – sharing knowledge with our clients and industry partners.” Transitioning to future fuels like hydrogen is a crucial step towards a decarbonised future and achieving the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, which aim to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.
A zero-carbon fuel, Green Hydrogen offers the opportunity to radically reduce emissions from the rail sector. The Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics 2020 report (BITRE, 2020 1) found that while Australia has around 32,900 route-kilometres of operational heavy railways, only 10 percent is electrified, with the remainder primarily fuelled by diesel.
AECOM’s Australia and New Zealand Future Fuels Leader, Adam Karl, says future fuels, such as hydrogen, can also improve the resilience and sustainability of our energy supplies, promote economic growth, support regional energy independence, and enhance global energy security.
He identifies transport as a critical sector for early adoption, “To successfully implement future fuels, we need to target suitable applications for adoption – those that make technical and economic sense, for example, displacing the use of diesel (a high-cost fuel) in certain applications such as heavy transport. This includes rail, particularly where direct electrification or electrification via batteries may be impractical, such as in regional and remote areas, and for long-haul, lower utilisation services.”
The project aligns with the aims of the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, a European Commission-led group looking at an ambitious deployment of hydrogen technologies by 2030 to support the EU’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. In July 2021, the Apennine Railway project was pre-selected by the European Commission in its framework of activities for the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, which aims to build a pipeline of viable investment projects and scale up the deployment of green hydrogen in Europe.