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Poland chooses alternative traction: the competitors are Alstom, Siemens and Pesa

31 May 2022
Reading time ~ 7 min
An Alstom Coradia iLint hydrogen train at the Zmigrud test track in Poland
Coradia iLint hydrogen train by Alstom at the Zmigrud test track in Poland. Source: Alstom
Litvintsova Olga, Editor of International Projects, ROLLINGSTOCK Agency
Reading time ~ 7 min
Stolchnev Alexey, Russian Projects Editor, ROLLINGSTOCK Agency

Poland: National passenger operator PKP Intercity plans to switch to “zero-emission” rolling stock by 2030. In this regard, Alstom and Siemens Mobility are counting on the supply of hydrogen rolling stock to the country. A local manufacturer, Pesa, is also working in the same direction.

Marek Chraniuk, President of PKP Intercity, announced large-scale plans for the transition to “green” technology. In turn, the energy supply operator of the country’s railway network PKP Energetyka has been implementing the Green Railway program since 2019, aimed at switching 85% of the network to renewable power sources by 2030, which should reduce CO2 emissions by 8 mln t. This is not only about investment in renewables, but also the possible deployment of a hydrogen filling infrastructure. For example, PKP Energetyka plans to launch an energy storage system based on the traction substation in Garbcha in 2023, which will be able to produce hydrogen by electrolysis using energy from solar panels and store it in cylinders.

The global rolling stock market leaders Alstom and Siemens have already expectedly expressed interest in these plans. So, in mid-May, Alstom announced that within the next two years, the first Coradia iLint hydrogen trains could be put into operation in Poland on regional lines. The manufacturer has already entered into a strategic cooperation agreement with local oil refinery company PKN Orlen. In accordance with the document, Alstom will be responsible for the supply of trains powered by Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel cells, while PKN Orlen will take over the distribution, storage and supply of hydrogen fuel for this rolling stock.

It is worth noting that in the summer of 2021, Alstom presented its hydrogen Coradia iLint train in Poland, organizing a demonstration at the test track of the Railway Transport Research Institute in Zmigrud. At the time, the company’s press release specifically emphasized that the presentation was being held after the publication of Poland’s national economic recovery plan due to the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, which provides for the purchase of 30 low-emission trains by 2026 for regional operators.

The Alstom hydrogen train has been successfully tested in four countries and has been in operation in Germany for more than three years, and the manufacturer’s portfolio of orders includes more than 60 trains of this series. In turn, Siemens Mobility only in May this year presented its counterpart to Coradia iLint, the Mireo Plus H train, the testing of which should begin only in mid-2023. However, in a January interview with, the head of Siemens Mobility in Poland, Hubert Meronk, said that the key areas for the company’s development in the country are the supply of battery Mireo B and hydrogen Mireo H trains for non-electrified lines. As of 2019, about 6.5 thsd of the 18.5 thsd km of the Polish railway network were not electrified.

The development of trains with hybrid traction (hydrogen + catenary) was also announced in 2021 by the Polish manufacturer, Pesa, as part of the development of the new Regio 160 train platform. They are scheduled to be put into operation in 2025-2026.

Pesa is also implementing a project with PNK Orlen of a shunting locomotive powered by hydrogen fuel cells and batteries. The finished SM42-6D prototype was presented in September 2021. The locomotive was equipped with four 180 kW asynchronous motors and two 85 kW hydrogen cells by Ballard. It is claimed that it can haul trains weighing about 3.2 thsd t with a maximum speed of 90 km/h: the characteristics are planned to be confirmed this year during trials in Zmigrud. At the same time, Siemens and Alstom do not have such locomotive solutions for now: Alstom has just announced work in this direction.

A Regio 160 train platform hydrogen modification A Regio 160 train platform hydrogen modification. Source: Pesa

A Pesa SM42-6Dn hydrogen locomotive at TRAKO exhibition in Poland A Pesa SM42-6Dn hydrogen locomotive at TRAKO exhibition in Poland. Source: OSJD

The Polish passenger operator Polregio might become one of the buyers of hydrogen trains. Its CEO, Wiesław Szafranski, said in April that the company was considering buying 10-12 hybrid trains powered by catenary and hydrogen fuel cells. However, according to him, it would be more effecitve to purchase hydrogen rolling stock after the creation of the necessary refueling infrastructure in Poland. At the moment, in order to quickly put it into operation, there is a need to additionally purchase mobile filling stations, the cost of which exceeds €1 mln per unit. As a result, the purchase of hydrogen trains right now will lead to unwanted costs and mobile filling stations will turn into “ballast”, Szafranski says.

The current stage of the Polregio’s fleet renewal, whose average rolling stock age is 27 years, so far involves the purchase of up to 200 traditional electric trains. The corresponding tender was published by Polregio in early May. The purchase is planned to be financed from the funds provided by the national economy recovery plan, including EU subsidies.

At the same time, Alstom gave a signal, which may indicate a trend towards shortening of climate initiatives in Europe against the backdrop of economic losses due to Covid-19 and the situation in Ukraine. So, the Le Figaro newspaper, quoting the company, reports that it invokes governments facing with rising national debt service rates “not to sacrifice the ecological transition”. “States, especially France, will face a difficult choice. I support the idea of ​​environmental planning, which is extremely important, – Alstom’s CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge quoted in the publication. – It can be based on a program law with a dedicated budget, so as not to experience any shock. We are ready to contribute”.