Ireland’s railway network operator Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) has enlisted retrofit company DIGAS to convert one of its freight diesel locomotives to operate with hydrogen as part of a €1.5m ($1.6m) proof of concept project.

The two companies will work together over two years on the testing of the retrofitted train, starting in 2024, to establish if the technology could be used on more of the operator’s 071-class diesel locomotives.

Chief executive Jim Meade said: “Iarnród Éireann has 18 071-class diesel locomotives in railway operations, 12 of which are used to support freight operations. 

“If the conversion tests are successful, these locomotives can be converted to greener and more efficient alternatives.”

Funding for the project comes from both Irish Rail and DIGAS, along with co-funding from EIT Urban Mobility, part of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the Mechanical Engineering Competence Centre, which itself receives funding from the EU’s European Recovery and Resilience Facility.

DIGAS will manufacture and install a Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine retrofit kit for the project, with the company noting that this tech differs from other hydrogen rail products by using the train’s existing internal combustion engine.

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By GlobalData

The project is currently in the design phase and will begin phase one of testing next year as the companies focus on static testing to check power and emissions output before moving on to phase two in 2025, looking at service trials of the train out on the Irish railway network.

DIGAS CEO and co-founder Petro Dumenko said: “Irish Rail management is really committed to decarbonisation of their operations. This project is proof of that commitment, not only in words but also in actions.

“Therefore, in spite of the aggressive timeline in front of us, together we feel confident in our joint ability to make this historic step towards sustainable mobility in a timely manner.”

Testing of hydrogen train technology continues Irish Rail’s explorations of alternative technologies for its railway network as it looks to decarbonise operations as part of its role as a designated champion of the Irish Government’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

This work has included a €179m purchase in 2022 for 90 battery-electric train carriages (18 five-carriage trains) from Alstom, later expanded to 95 carriages, along with a train-charging infrastructure contract.