Duking it out over hydrogen power.

Smart politicians stay out of arguments over technology. This was the point we were trying to make in our June 20 comments on the multi-billion-dollar plan to electrify Ontario’s Toronto-area commuter train services. It was never our intent to put down the idea of hydrogen-powered trains.

It is very important to realize that the billions required to upgrade the trains has very little to do with how they are powered. Speedier, two-way service requires that all the commuter rail lines be twinned. We can no longer allow passenger trains to sit on sidings while other trains go by in the opposite direction.

And when you twin those lines, you have to rebuild overpasses and underpasses as required to allow for the two tracks instead of a single track. And making sure there are no level crossings also takes quite a few billions.

The next expense is upgrading stations to improve the service for the all-important passengers. And finally, you are going to change to electrical power to enable the trains to get up to speed faster and to brake quieter. It is this speed requirement that can allow for trains to run as frequently as every 15-minutes.

A small percentage of the billions involved will be needed to electrify the system. That requires overhead wires and connections to the grid. It will be a very efficient use of electrical power.

What is not efficient today would be the proposed use of hydrogen fuel cell power. Proponents of fuel cells always compare the use of hydrogen to that of diesel. Diesel is noisy, polluting, slow to come up to speed and takes a lot of space as part of a train. And that is why we need to have the electrical systems for the trains today.

When the day comes that it is inexpensive, non-polluting and energy-efficient to obtain hydrogen from methane, or by electrolysis from water, and it is inexpensive to store and transport, we will join the chorus of people wanting to switch to hydrogen power. There are just some serious problems with hydrogen that need to be solved first. And those are problems for scientists, not for politicians.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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