Battery train operation in the Bavarian Forest technically possible but expensive, new report finds

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A new report published by Bavarian passenger transport firm Bayerische Eisenbahngesellschaft (BEG) has revealed that the operation of battery-powered hybrid trains in the Bavarian Forest is “technically possible”, but it would require significant investment and a lead time of at least 10 years.

© BEG / Uwe Miethe

The report, which was carried out by TU Dresden alongside BEG, examined the use of battery-powered hybrid vehicles in the Bavarian Forest. Diesel trains are currently running here. It found that infrastructure investments of more than €30 million would be necessary to roll out the sustainable trains.

The report examined the Bayerwald network with the main line from Plattling via Deggendorf and Zwiesel to Bayerisch Eisenstein and an optional extension to Klatovy in the Czech Republic, as well as all lines that branch off from it: Zwiesel – Grafenau, and Zwiesel - Bodenmais. 

Germany intends to only allow new vehicles that are CO2-neutral to operate when these lines are next awarded. These new vehicles are expected to be used from the end of 2034, when the transport contract with the state railways expires.

“We want all regional transport in Bavaria to be emission-free by 2040 at the latest, including in the Bavarian Forest. Since the routes there can certainly not be completely electrified in the medium term, we are looking around for alternatives in good time,” said Bavaria’s minister of transport and BEG supervisory board chairman Christian Bernreiter. 

“The results of the study are an important first basis for decision-making. To be honest, they are also a bit sobering in terms of time and cost. That's why we want to investigate further possibilities in detail,” Bernreiter added.

Thomas Prechtl, spokesman for the management of the BEG, continued, “In terms of climate protection, rail travel is already vastly superior to the car. Nevertheless, we would like to further expand this advantage and make regional transport completely climate neutral. Which drive technology is most suitable depends to a large extent on the rail infrastructure; there is no one-size-fits-all solution for Bavaria. That’s why we take a very close look at each individual route.”

The main reason for the high infrastructure costs in the report is the requirement for catenary islands. These are short sections of track that need to be equipped with overhead lines to allow the trains to charge their batteries. Plattling station is currently the only place in the Bayerwald network where an overhead line already exists. 

According to the experts, the following overhead line islands would also have to be built for area-wide battery operation in the Bavarian Forest: in the Viechtach and Grafenau train stations and on a roughly 10km section from Bettmannsäge via Zwiesel to Ludwigsthal. 

Time-consuming planning approval procedures would be required for the overhead line islands. The experts therefore also expect that the necessary infrastructure measures could be implemented by the end of 2034 at the earliest.

The BEG will commission a second part of the report for the Bayerwald network from TU Dresden. On the one hand, it is intended to investigate the alternative use of hydrogen vehicles in the Bavarian Forest. On the other hand, it should bring the results on battery hybrid vehicles up to date. 

The Czech side is examining the electrification of the section from Klatovy to the border. This could reduce the effort required for the overhead line islands on the German side, since the Bayerisch Eisenstein border station would then have another station with overhead lines in the Bayerwald network. In addition, a direct connection from Plattling to Klatovy could possibly be implemented more easily. The results of the extended report are expected by the end of this year.

Parallel to the second part of the report, the Bavarian Ministry of Transport is trying to find a solution in negotiations with DB Netz on how the maximum permissible weight of trains on the routes in the Bavarian Forest can be increased. For new vehicles to be able to drive there at all from the mid-2030s, the routes must first be upgraded, since the axle loads currently permitted are only exceeded by older used vehicles.

To download the first part of the report, click here.