The Tirol provincial government has officially given its backing to the proposal of converting the Zillertalbahn, a narrow-gauge railway, to hydrogen traction.
This decision, although acknowledged to be more expensive than conventional overhead electrification, highlights the province’s determination to be a pioneer in the field of hydrogen technology. As the project moves forward, key aspects such as project structure, implementation strategy, and the tendering process for hydrogen trains will be further developed. The Zillertalbahn, linking Jenbach with Mayrhofen im Zillertal over a distance of 31.7 km, holds the potential to become a climate-friendly, sustainable, and hydrogen-powered transport solution.
Governor Anton Mattle emphasized the importance of Tirol leading the way in hydrogen technology, stating that it requires courage to undertake a pilot project that showcases the potential of hydrogen. By converting the Zillertalbahn to hydrogen traction, the province aims to demonstrate its commitment to a cleaner and more sustainable future. The government has commissioned further work to develop a comprehensive concept for the project, including an implementation strategy and tender preparations for hydrogen trains.
The Zillertaler Verkehrsbetriebe, the operator of the Zillertalbahn, plans to source green hydrogen through electrolysis, utilizing hydropower generation. This environmentally friendly approach could potentially save up to 900,000 liters of diesel fuel annually. While the switch to hydrogen is estimated to increase operating costs by €2.7 million per year, the Zillertal tourism associations are expected to contribute to covering these expenses. Moreover, Governor Mattle believes that the cost of hydrogen will decrease significantly in the coming years.
Despite the provincial government’s endorsement, the project faces challenges and uncertainties. The procurement of new rolling stock hinges on the tendering of a revised operating concession, raising doubts about the feasibility of having fuel cell trains operational on the line by the targeted year of 2027. The province hopes that the federal government will contribute at least 50% of the estimated €100 million cost, as significant funding is necessary to bring this ambitious endeavor to fruition.
Opposition from the FPÖ and Green Party has emerged, with calls to cancel the project due to concerns over its cost and the uncertainties surrounding the figures. Some have suggested converting the line to standard gauge (1,435 mm) and electrifying it, enabling seamless connectivity with ÖBB’s national rail network. These alternative proposals reflect the ongoing debates and considerations in finding the most economically viable and environmentally sustainable solution.
In an unrelated development, the Chief Technology Officer of Zillertaler Verkehrsbetriebe, Helmut Schreiner, was dismissed on June 22 after it was discovered that he had misrepresented his academic qualifications. While this incident caused a disruption, the project is expected to continue with new leadership, as Tirol remains committed to the hydrogen-powered transformation of the Zillertalbahn.
In conclusion, Tirol’s endorsement of converting the Zillertalbahn to hydrogen traction showcases the province’s determination to be at the forefront of sustainable transportation. Despite challenges and opposition, the potential environmental benefits and the opportunity to showcase the viability of hydrogen technology drive this ambitious project forward.