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California is opting for fuel cell locos instead of overhead wire???

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California is opting for fuel cell locos instead of overhead wire???
Posted by anglecock on Friday, June 17, 2022 3:41 PM
022-01-29

Quick Note: California Gets Electrification Wrong

Caltrans has a new plan to make its intercity rail fleet zero-emission. The snag: it rejects electrification as infeasible and is instead looking for hydrogen fuel cell trains. I do not think any of the people who were involved in this study is competent enough to keep working in this field, and it’s important to explain why.

I refer readers to the electrification report we at TransitMatters put out a few months ago. It talks about the costs and benefits of overhead wire, and goes over some case studies of some electrification projects, some good (Trondheim), some okay (Israel, Denmark), and some examples of what not to do (Caltrain, Toronto). Since then I’ve seen additional data of electrification costs out of Italy, where they’re near the bottom of our range.

Our report also goes into alternatives to wire and why they’re infeasible. Hydrogen is not even remotely close. The largest order as of 2019 was 27 trains for the Rhine-Main region, each 54 meters long, for 500M€, or around 343,000€ per linear meter; single-level EMUs typically cost around 80,000€/m in Europe. It’s infant technology with wanting performance and its cost is not worth it compared with the cost of wiring the trains.

Instead, Caltrans thinks that overhead wires are infeasible. It does not publish cost estimates; those estimates would be based on the failure of Caltrain and not on successes in non-English-speaking countries (or even in Britain, with high but not fire-everyone costs), because nobody at Caltrans who has any authority knows or cares.

To make it worse, Caltrans says electrification “has right-of-way implications.” In other words, it requires space for poles and this is supposed to be difficult. In reality, it isn’t. A short distance from the tracks is needed for poles, but the rights-of-way in the state are not especially constrained; Caltrain, in a fairly dense suburban area, did not have that problem, but rather had problems with the execution of the design and with unusual standards for pole placement.

It’s a perennial problem in the United States that rail managers and agency heads are allergic to electrification. It’s a foreign concept, literally. They don’t travel – when they do they think of it as a vacation, not as work to see how countries with an order of magnitude more rail ridership per capita do it. None of the people they know knows, either. Nor are they technically apt or curious – they come from a managerial culture in which speaking of technical details is low-prestige, and making excuses and talking about politics are high-prestige. Fresh master’s graduates in Europe know more than they ever will. They are useless, and they know it.

So they avoid that technology using whatever excuses that they can find. Hydrogen feels to them like they’re innovative; they’re not, US mainline passenger rail is a joke, but they think they are because the notion that the US is a technological laggard doesn’t come naturally to them, since in many fields, none of which is public-sector, the US really is at the technological frontier. Nor are they qualified to tell the difference between mature and experimental tech, which is why they think electrification is not affordable and hydrogen trains at four times the upfront acquisition cost and an unproven maintenance cost are.

The only long-term solution to this recurrent problem is removing the people involved. I don’t have direct experience with California the way I do with the Northeast, but between what I know of the Northeast and what Richard Mlynarik and others have said of California, what’s likely is that the top people do not know what an EMU is, the traditional railroaders think electric wires are for toy trains, and the analysts have never once written an alternatives analysis in which the outcome was not politically pre-decided.

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 8:51 AM

I find it hard to believe that someone who writes for TransitMatters would accuse Caltrans of not comprehending the value of catenary electrification, or understanding the costs and pitfalls of implementing it, since the 'peninsula' service has been electrified within recent years.

ZEHTRANS is a political presentation, in line with other 'zero carbon' virtue signaling in recent years, and I think if it is to be read as an implementable policy document it should contain full discussion of the hydrogen-sourcing infrastructure that has been so integral and vital a part of the European 'battery-hybrid' schemes.  

ASSuming the hydrogen infrastructure to support appropriate service is put in place (presumably piggybacking and expanding on the existing California vehicle hydrogen infrastructure, which ought to be happening for other reasons already) it would be a comparatively simple matter for a company like RPS to put a few Ballard cells in with its battery infrastructure to provide intercity-capable power.  It would be trivial to make this dual-mode-lite, which provides an easy and modular route to catenary or smart third rail anywhere those technologies find support -- ultimately reaching the level where full route electrification can be achieved, or supporting largely electrified systems with gaps or branches not economically electrified even with Phoenix-style automation of infrastructure installation.

The people who need to be 'replaced' in California are the consultants that exploit the California political environment.  Streamline the procedures for environmental analysis.  Implement the same kinds of equipment for catenary that we have for TLMs.  If a fleet of vehicles needs to be built in the next few years, make it self-propelled with a bridge toward progressive electrification... not all or nothing.

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Posted by anglecock on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 2:24 PM

As far as i understand Cat wire has been buil but not but it has taken since 1995 and multiple lawsuits later to get anything working. California in the 2000s is not the Roaring 1920s when private railroads got stuff done like Pennsy Electrification

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Sunday, June 26, 2022 11:33 PM

An anectdote from the 1991-92 hearings on electrifying the freight railroads in the SoCal air basin. The estimated cost of the project hit $4B and then someone suggested fuel cells would be the answer. This brings up the question of how many fuel cell powered freight locomotives have been built in the last 30 years?

To be practical, a fuel cell powered MU car would need a hybrid power source with the fuel cells providing long term power and the batteries providing acceleration and deceleration (regenerative braking).

One joker in the deck is that "Medium Voltage" (3kV to 15kV) DC electrifications are being developed as advances in power electronics make DC/DC converters that are substantially lighter than a 60Hz transformer.

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Posted by rdamon on Monday, June 27, 2022 10:40 AM

Erik_Mag

One joker in the deck is that "Medium Voltage" (3kV to 15kV) DC electrifications are being developed as advances in power electronics make DC/DC converters that are substantially lighter than a 60Hz transformer.

 

 
Starting to see the adoption of HVDC (High-Voltage DC) in the data center and the wide-area networks. Where HV in this case means in comparison to -48V DC and is up to +/- 380VDC.  This is due to the advancements in DC-DC converters and allows for the removal of the inverters in the UPS System and the use of smaller wire to the equipment.
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Posted by roundstick3@gmail.com on Monday, June 27, 2022 6:05 PM

Cat wire means that you could use a variety of equipment from single engines to MU Mutiple Unit "Silverliners". Retrogen braking means that you can feed energy back into the system. The real story here is that living next to a high speed high frequency service line changes the population  thus the political landscape

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Tuesday, June 28, 2022 12:05 AM

380VDC for data centers has been around for a few years now. AC power is converted to 380VDC which is then used to float charge batteries as well as being distributed to the various racks. FWIW, 380V is not much higher that the typical power factor correcting AC/DC converter front end, so it wasn't as big of a change as one might expect. The new SiC and GaN power devices helping improve efficiency of the high voltage DC/DC converters.

While I haven't seen much coverage recently of distribution voltage power electronics, I do remember a few articles ca 2014 about experimental high frequency distribution transformers using experimental 10 to 14kV rated SiCFET's.

There's one outfit in Poland that has been making traction inverters that run off of 3kVDC catenary - would have been a nice solution for traction power had the D&LW 3kV commuter electrification not been switched to 60Hz. IIRC, they were using 6.5kV rated silicon IGBT's.

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