The states of Berlin and Brandenburg and the Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn (NEB – Niederbarnim Railway Company) have concluded negotiations on the research contract for the Heidekrautbahn. Particularly noteworthy: For the first time, hydrogen-powered trains will be used in the region around the German capital city.

The project will receive a total of 25 million euros in funding from the Federal Ministry of Transport, which will be allocated among the three project sponsors ENERTRAG, Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn (NEB) and Kreiswerke Barnim. The funding is coordinated by NOW GmbH and Project Management Jülich (PtJ).

As a first step, the operational preparations – especially for the establishment of the necessary hydrogen infrastructure – as well as the procurement of the vehicles can now begin. Also benefiting from this will be the project to reactivate the main line of the Heidekrautbahn, which is part of the i2030 infrastructure project in which the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, Deutsche Bahn and the Berlin-Brandenburg Transport Alliance (VBB – Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg) are driving forward the expansion of the rail infrastructure in the capital region. The start of operations on the main line between Basdorf and Wilhelmsruh is scheduled for the end of 2024, which coincides with the commissioning of the hydrogen vehicles on the Heidekrautbahn.

The reactivation of the main line of the Heidekrautbahn between Basdorf and Wilhelmsruh is the first of two steps to improve the connection between the north of Pankow and parts of the Märkisches Viertel as well as the Mühlenbecker Land to Berlin’s city centre. The line runs through Mühlenbeck, Schildow and along the northern edge of Rosenthal to Wilhelmsruh on Berlin’s S1 suburban railway line. With the start of operations in 2024, this first stage is to be served continuously every day (between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 p.m.) at hourly intervals. The second stage, which involves extending the line beyond Wilhelmsruh to Berlin-Gesundbrunnen, will be taken to the next phase as part of the i2030 infrastructure project. At this later point in time, there are also plans to increase the frequency of the service to half-hourly intervals. The states of Berlin and Brandenburg are jointly investing providing greater passenger convenience and a denser frequency, as well as more environmentally friendly propulsion technology on the Heidekrautbahn (RB27).

Bettina Jarasch, Senator for the Environment, Mobility, Consumer and Climate Protection of the State of Berlin:
“The hydrogen research project on the Heidekrautbahn puts climate-friendly propulsion systems to the test under real-life conditions. I am eagerly looking forward to the experiences and the comparison with other options such as the electrification of the line or battery-powered trains, which will also soon be running in the metropolitan region. The Heidekrautbahn line to Wilhelmsruh, with a connection to the Märkisches Viertel, is a very important element that links into our overall i2030 project. In this way, the federal states are establishing more attractive rail services to enable people to do without their private cars, both for commuting and for day trips.”

Guido Beermann, Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Planning of the State of Brandenburg:
“With i2030, we are working to further develop the infrastructure for a future-oriented and demand-driven rail transport service and are thereby advancing the mobility transition in our country. With the project contract for the RB27 railway line, we are already taking a giant leap into the future. From as early as 2024, we will be shaping regional mobility with regional green energy in the regional economic cycle. Greater sustainability is hardly possible. This is because zero-emission drives with green hydrogen are an important building block for climate-friendly mobility. With the new hydrogen trains running on the Heidekrautbahn line, we are not only launching a lighthouse project for Brandenburg, but also for Germany as a whole.”

Daniel Kurth, District Administrator of the Barnim District:
“Together with the district of Uckermark and the highly committed and innovative companies operating in our region, it was possible to initiate groundbreaking hydrogen projects last year. With the launch of the Heidekrautbahn in Barnim, we have laid the foundations for one of the most advanced projects for the establishment of a hydrogen economy in local rail passenger transport, public transport and heavy road transport. We are grateful for the support we have been experiencing for several years on the subject of hydrogen, both from the federal government and above all at the state level. This commitment is a necessary prerequisite for the tasks ahead of us in building a hydrogen infrastructure that can and will be exemplary throughout Germany.”

Susanne Henckel, Managing Director of the Berlin-Brandenburg Transport Association (VBB – Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg):
“This research contract is an absolute milestone for all parties involved and especially for our passengers! For the main line of the Heidekrautbahn, we are working closely with the federal states and Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn AG and now intend to implement a better rail connection in the northern Berlin area as quickly as possible. The new, attractive direct line from the northern settlement axis to Berlin’s city centre is especially beneficial for the many commuters and also for tourism. The fact that hydrogen-powered trains will be used for the first time in the capital region is the icing on the cake of this project: Sustainability, climate protection and a transition in mobility are interlinked here in a convincing and logical manner. All the conceptual and planning work that has been conducted over the last few years has certainly paid off!”

Detlef Bröcker, Managing Director of Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn (NEB – Niederbarnim Railway Company):
“We are delighted to be part of this special project and would like to thank Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn for their confidence in us for the renewed award of the transport contract until 2034. The expansion of services and the use of the new hydrogen-run vehicles certainly contributes to the ecological transition in the transport sector. Modern vehicle equipment additionally increases the attractiveness of regional passenger transport in the metropolitan region.”

New rail vehicles
Seven innovative hydrogen-powered rail vehicles are to operate on the Heidekrautbahn network. The procurement will be made within the scope of an EU-wide tender. Each train will provide seating for approximately 140 passengers. Sufficient doors on each side of the vehicle will ensure that passengers can enter and exit quickly. Meanwhile, the spacious multi-purpose compartment with twelve bicycle parking spaces is centrally located between two such doors. To accommodate both peak commuter demands and requirements for tourism and day-trip purposes, the trains will be operated in two-car configuration during peak periods and at weekends.  The equipment level and fittings are based on the standards established in the VBB in recent years and include features such as real-time passenger information, Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, barrier-free access and low-noise operation.

Hydrogen project
Already last year, the then Federal Minister of Transport, Andreas Scheuer, ceremoniously handed over the funding notices for the research project for pure hydrogen operation on the Heidekrautbahn. The project is funded with a total of 25 million euros from the Federal Ministry of Transport, which will go to the three project sponsors ENERTRAG, Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn (NEB) and Kreiswerke Barnim. The funding is coordinated by NOW GmbH and Project Management Jülich (PtJ).

With this funding support, the three partners, who have each already been involved in the region north of Berlin for many years, are striving to set new standards in the development of a regional hydrogen infrastructure and sustainable mobility in local rail passenger transport. The main focus is on the development of a closed regional hydrogen infrastructure. In addition to the procurement of the fuel cell trains, the construction of a hydrogen production facility and the establishment of the refuelling systems play a decisive and supporting role. The entire rail operation is to be powered exclusively from green energy. In order to create synergies, a cross-sectoral coupling with the Barnim district economy is planned. The aim is to also use the hydrogen produced for services provided by the district, such as the refuelling of its entire fleet of waste disposal vehicles or buses running with fuel cells. In this way, this research project is intended to contribute to reducing the costs of the entire value chain from (green) energy production to final consumption. The switch from diesel to hydrogen, which is produced entirely from renewable and regionally generated electricity, corresponds to an annual CO2 reduction of three million kilograms and a saving of 1.1 million litres of diesel fuel.