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Alternative Railway Electrification in Norway

Alternative Railway Electrification in Norway

Published 13 July 2016

As many European countries, Norway has still a significant length of non-electrified railways. New technologies like hydrogen fuel cells and batteries can be a better option than expensive catenary lines.

Freight train over Saltfjellet
A freight train passes Saltfjellet on a spring day. © David Gubler

The Norwegian railway system still features well over 1000 km of non-electrified railways, in particular:

  • The Nordland line, 731 km from Trondheim to Bodø, an important freight transport line for Northern Norway; it crosses the polar circle and some of the most challenging environments for rail transport in Europe.
  • The Rauma line, from the coastal city of Åndalsnes to Dombås in the Dovre mountain range: appreciated by tourists for the spectacular views it offers, and for that reason a catenary line would reduce the economic value of the line.
  • The Røros line, a variant of the electrified Dovre line between Oslo and Trondheim;
  • The Solør line, a shorter branch used today mostly for timber transport to Sweden.

With increasing requirements on emission reduction, there is political will to reduce the role of fossil fuels in rail tranport in Norway.

The Norwegian Railway Authority, Jernbaneverket, hired SINTEF to find out how to electrify (or at least decarbonise) these lines. SINTEF considered all these lines, and evaluated multiple concepts: traditional catenary, biodiesel, natural gas, hydrogen ("hydrail"), batteries, partial catenary with smaller batteries, hydrogen-battery hybrid. The alternatives were evaluated for environmental friendliness, flexibility/robustness, economy, technology readiness and presence of regulatory framework.

SINTEF's findings are that:

  • Diesel and biodiesel have dominating fuel costs, and also high locomotive maintenance;
  • Catenary is competitive with diesel (except for the Nordland line), but requires enormous up-front investments;
  • Hydrogen and Batteries have a better economy than both diesel and catenary, because they couple the low energy costs of catenary with the low infrastructure costs of diesel;
  • Batteries are however still expensive and have short lifetime, but the technology should improve in the coming years;
  • Regulations for hydrogen transport are missing in the railway sector, and need to be developed before deployment;
  • By 2020, battery technology should have the best features, whereas hydrogen is expected to be the best option from 2025;
  • Biodiesel will remain a good "quick fix" for all foreseeable future;
  • (Liquified) Natural gas may become an option in the coming years, but will soon be sidelined by zero-emission regulations.

The Norwegian Railway authority based their new strategy for operation of non-electrified railways on SINTEF's report.

Vice President - Marketing

Project duration

14/03/2014 - 31/12/2015

Hydrogen and batteries outperform traditional propulsion methods

Non-electrified rail in North America: 250000 km