Supporting the development of hydrogen-powered trains to establish a green railway in China

When the Chinese government first announced its carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals, hydrogen-powered trains were not the obvious solution for train designers. However, CRRC Changchun Railway and the Chengdu Railway Group (CRG) quickly realised their potential to create a green, low-carbon solution for urban rail networks.

Analysis carried out by Chinese rail experts indicates railway transportation provides the most appropriate application scenario for hydrogen fuel cells when compared with other passenger vehicles. Fixed railway lines, with point-to-point routes within railway systems make the transportation and storage of hydrogen easier, avoiding the need to construct and establish refuelling stations.

Hydrogen-powered trains remain a relatively new concept within the market. Only one such train had previously been developed for the German railway system. To achieve the aims set out by the Chinese government, CRRC and CRG joined forces to develop the world’s first inter-city, hydrogen powered train capable of operating at speeds up to 160km/h. This would be designed to offer an environmentally friendly service for commuters travelling to and from Chengdu, the capital city of the Sichuan Province.

The project required a reliable hydrogen-powered service, and as such, the power and weight of the train’s engine system needed to be perfectly balanced. Optimal traction power could only be attained so long as there are no further increases to the train’s weight, or the range of the system would be significantly affected.
Due to the sheer number of power modules found in the hydrogen power supply system, the fuel cell had to be equipped with various sensors to monitor temperature, pressure, and the hydrogen concentration. As a result, any electrical systems needed to be relied upon in order to accurately control these elements. This was especially crucial for the connectivity system responsible for signalling and the transmission of power, which required quality cabling to work efficiently. 

Interior image of hydrogen-powered train

In order to provide a superior experience for passengers compared to traditional trains, CRRC also wanted to incorporate cutting-edge technologies as part of their offering, such as autonomous driving, intelligent passenger information systems (PIS) and 5G high-capacity train-to-ground communication.
To overcome the demands of the project, HUBER+SUHNER were called upon due to its extensive experience of proven, customisable solutions within the rail sector.
A bespoke harness was provided not only to meet the specific requirements of CRRC but also to ensure the train was compliant with the safety standards expected of rail braking systems. The electrical and passenger information systems on the train were also enhanced through the use of innovative RADOX® 3 GKW and 4 GKW and TENIUS cables, to maintain reliable and stable signal transmission and electrical connections between the hydrogen power system and the other relevant sub-systems. These cables also helped to reduce weight and save crucial space within the train, which was a key requirement from the customer.
To further optimise communications, HUBER+SUHNER supplied two SENCITY® Rail MULTI 7-Port antennas for the train’s PIS and Wi-Fi system, alongside a SPUMA Radio Frequency (RF) cable with technical indicators to enable multi-network integration and accurate data analysis. These will help to assess the status of the train, improving the safety and efficiency of the service.
Thanks to the innovative solutions provided to the project, the world’s first hydrogen powered, 160km/h inter-city train was successfully rolled out in Chengdu in December 2022.

The train is equipped with a 4-car configuration and can reach a maximum speed of 160 km/h, the fastest train powered by hydrogen at the moment. With a built-in power system capable of up to a range of 600 km on a single charge, the combination of this technology alongside a super capacitor improves upon the catenary power supply traditionally utilised in trains.

With energy being generated through the electrochemical reaction of oxygen and hydrogen in the fuel cell, no nitrogen is emitted, and water is the only by-product. Consequently, commuters within Chengdu can now rely on an eco-friendly service that aligns with the government’s environmental aims.

HUBER+SUHNER were delighted to partner with CRRC and its key system suppliers, and will continue to supply high performance cable, antenna, and harness technologies that ensure fast, stable, and reliable connectivity. While the project was developed solely to provide a new solution for the Chinese inter-city railway market, we expect hydrogen powered trains will soon play a vital role in modern railway networks across the globe.