Valley Link rail project in California receives approval for green hydrogen production facility

3 min read

The Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority in California, US, has approved the final purchase agreement with the City of Tracy for 200 acres of property to be used for the Valley Link rail project, which aims to be the nation’s first passenger rail system to operate on self-produced green hydrogen.

The purchase agreement follows the authority’s approval in September of the project’s hydrogen production feasibility study. The property provides the critical land area needed to implement a green hydrogen production facility that will support the authority’s vision of sustainability for the Valley Link rail project.

The Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority is a special-purpose district body formed for the sole purpose of providing a public transit connection, known as Valley Link, between broad-gauge Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and standard-gauge Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) services, in Northern California

Valley Link’s goal to operate zero emission, hydrogen rail vehicles makes it a model of environmental and economic sustainability. “Valley Link’s self-produced, green hydrogen will reduce the cost of the overall project operations for the public and offset state and federal transit subsidies,” said Veronica Vargas, chair of the authority board of directors. “The project’s vision also supports opportunities to create and sustain new living wage jobs in both the hydrogen fuel production and related renewable energy industries. This is good for both the economy and the environment.”

The 26-mile Valley Link Rail Project Phase 1 between the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station in Alameda County and the Mountain House station in San Joaquin County, will connect tens of thousands of Bay Area workers now commuting daily from their homes in communities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley – some of the state’s most disadvantaged communities located in one of the most polluted air basins in the US.

The authority is leading the implementation of the Valley Link rail project as a model of sustainability – one that could operate on its own created renewable energy, support transit-oriented land use development around station areas, and promote innovation in station access, while maximizing air quality, equity, health, and workforce benefits.

To date, the state has invested in several hydrogen vehicle technologies and several transit agencies in California are producing their own hydrogen fuel. The sustainability vision of the Valley Link rail project seeks to significantly expand on this concept including the opportunity to manage risk and maximize the outcomes of green hydrogen production through public-private partnership with expertise from the hydrogen production industry.

While the feasibility study identifies the sizing of the production facility to meet Valley Link’s initial operating segment fuel needs, the authority recognizes that there will be the opportunity to scale up a facility to ensure that both public and private investment in a green hydrogen hub can expand the availability, and reduce the cost, of green hydrogen to other users.

“Valley Link is well-positioned to be a model of sustainability capitalizing on innovative technology and recent public and private sector investments to operate on its self-generated renewable energy,” remarked Tim Sbranti, director of strategic initiatives for the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group.

Even before Valley Link begins operations, the hydrogen production facility will be able to support the clean energy of other transit and heavy truck operators within the next two to three years, providing a near immediate benefit to the community.

The passage of State Assembly Bill 209 now establishes a US$100 million Hydrogen Program under the California Energy Commission to fund hydrogen demonstration projects. The authority is also partnering with the Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems (ARCHES) Initiative to coordinate the development of the state application for federal funding under the US$8 billion national US Department of Energy Regional Hydrogen Hub Program.

Valley Link will ultimately close a critical gap in the statewide rail system with a 42-mile, seven station rail connection between the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station and the North Lathrop Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) station with all day service on BART frequencies during peak periods.

With 33,000 daily riders projected by 2040, Valley Link would remove tens of thousands of cars off Interstates 580 and 205 and connect nearly 500 miles of passenger rail with more than 130 stations in the Northern California Megaregion – removing up to 42,650 metrics tons of greenhouse gas emissions, creating 22,000 jobs, and supporting national goods movement by reducing heavy truck conflicts with cars on Interstates 580 and 205 that serve as life lines between the Port of Oakland and both domestic and international markets. Overall traffic on Interstate 580 is projected to increase by an estimated 60% by 2040 and truck traffic is expected to increase by 58%.

The initial operating segment between the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station and the Mountain House station, including the Isabel and South Front Road stations in Livermore, is targeted for construction in 2025. In addition to the use of zero emissions vehicles and green energy production technologies, the Valley Link Board-adopted Sustainability Policy identifies implementing strategies to achieve a zero emissions system through innovation station access. This includes electric autonomous shuttles, shared mobility, and support for local transit operator alternative vehicle technology.