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Will hydrail connect North and South Korea?

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by guest blogger Stan Thompson

Last Thursday (10 May 2018), Choe San-Hun wrote in the New York Times that, during their recent historic encounter, South Korean President Moon Jae-in handed North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un a “USB drive” containing an infrastructure vision including railway modernization. Mr. Choe does not mention hydrogen fuel cell railways but, odds are, hydrail was referenced on that USB drive. Here’s why.

South Korea has been a hydrail visionary state since at least 2007, when Dr. Seky Chang of KRRI, the Korean Railway Research Institute, presented “Hydrail Project in Korea” at the Third International Hydrail Conference at Catawba College in Salisbury, NC.

KRRI updated their hydrail vision at the Valencia, Spain, Fourth International Hydrail Conference (“4IHC”) in 2008 and, in 2009, at “5IHC” at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Again, in Istanbul at the 2010 “6IHC” sponsored by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s International Center for Hydrogen Energy Technologies, Dr. Chang’s presentation about South Korea’s emphasis on hydrogen’s role in Green energy included an update on hydrail plans.

Dr. Chang will be a presenter in Rome next month at the 13th International Hydrail Conference at the University of Rome II, Tor Vergata. (Registration is now open.)

North Korea’s primary trading partner is China. China’s first hydrail locomotive was described by Professor Weirong Chen at the Hydrail Conference in Toronto, 2013.  China Railway Rolling-stock Corporation now has a hydrail tram plant in Qingdao and another in Tangshan, where a new hydrogen tram fleet now operates using supercapacitors to capture stopping energy for re-acceleration—rather than the usual li-ion battery complement.

South America went directly to cell phones rather than emulating North America’s land-line infrastructure. Similarly, it seems probable that—if North Korea opt’s for China’s Deng Xiao Ping “rejoin-the-world” model—both diesel traction and Victorian-era trolley tech will be side-tracked in favor of hydrail.

When President Trump meets President Moon and Leader Kim in Singapore on June 12, he will not go empty-handed, hydrail wise. Besides providing thirteen years of International Hydrail Conference series leadership, the US also built the first hydrail mining locomotive (emulated in South Africa) and, almost a decade ago, produced Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s HH1205—the biggest hydrogen land vehicle on earth. US Transportation Secretary Chao knows the territory, geographically as well as technologically and Federal Railroad Administrator, Ron Batory, recently wrote that he is willing to talk to railroads interested in hydrail: perhaps including off-shore partners?

If the North-South detente continues on the Korean Peninsula, it’s hard to imagine a more practical vehicle for peace than a quiet, green hydrail line from Seoul to Pyongyang…and beyond.


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