Hydrogen Trolleys

Hydrolley Vision

by Stan Thompson, Hydrogen Economy Advancement Team, Mooresville, N.C.

Download hydrolley presentation [PPT - 3.2MB]

Just as hydrail is the easiest application of hydrogen fuel cell technology to transportation, it may be that the hydrolley-or hydrogen streetcar-is the easiest form of hydrail to introduce.

Hydrogen buses are already deployed in several cities around the world and are reportedly doing well, so why do we need hydrolleys?

I can think of four reasons:

  1. Unlike buses, rail transit has a clear positive effect on high-density residential and business development along the route. In Charlotte, North Carolina, where one of the most recent light rail lines just opened, the investment along the line before it opened was enormous, jumpstarting what had been a fading part of town. And it continues. It's reasonable to expect that similar development will follow clean, silent, wireless hydrolley lines.
  2. Steel-wheels-on-rails offer only about one-seventh the rolling friction of rubber tired vehicles, conferring a range and economy advantage over buses.
  3. For reasons that are intuitive, if hard to put into words, rail transit is somehow "up market" from buses and will draw ridership that would not give up cars for buses. In Charlotte, plans for a Bus Rapid Transit ("BRT") system linking downtown with the CLT airport disappointed those who preferred something like Atlanta's MARTA train to "ATL." But a wireless hydrolley line at about the same cost of BRT would be an easy sell.
  4. And finally, hydrolleys might carry about half again as many passengers per operator as buses, and labor is a major transit expense.

Even without hydrail technology, US streetcar reintroduction plans are already booming. Municipalities are willing to bite the catenary bullet and spend big bucks to get folks out of cars.

But if the same hauling capacity can be had without the clutter of overhead wires and without the two- to three million dollars per mile of track that overhead power adds to streetcar line construction cost, the advent of the hydrolley may spark a much bigger streetcar renaissance, and do so fairly soon.

With the prospect of hydrolleys now in sight, it's hard to imagine that Federal transit funding for new catenary streetcar lines will continue much beyond the end of this decade.