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RVK Cologne: First new hydrogen buses in service

Presentation at the bus station of Bensberg: the new hydrogen bus 408 | © RVK
30 fuel cell buses for the RVK

January 6, 2020: at the bus station in Bensberg (district of Bergisch Gladbach), Rainer Deppe, Stephan Santelmann, the district councillor of Bergisch Gladbach, Andrea Blome, deputy for mobility and transport infrastructure of the city of Cologne, and Eugen Puderbach, managing director of Regionalverkehr Köln GmbH (RVK), take line 423 between the central bus station of Bensberg and Cologne/Bonn airport into operation. All this on board of the first of 30 fuel cell buses of the type “Van Hool New A 330 FC” ordered by the RVK at Van Hool. They are part of a joint order of the RVK with the Wuppertal Stadtwerke (WSW): Another ten buses go to Wuppertal.

2011: RVK tests hydrogen buses for the first time

Hydrogen as fuel for buses is nothing new at RVK. As early as 2011, two fuel cell articulated buses were put into service numbered 10 and 100. Both were built by APTS (Advanced Public Transport Systems) from Helmond in the Netherlands – model “Phileas 18”. They were used on a line between Hürth and the Cologne central bus terminus at the main railway station. To refuel, they went to the “Chempark” in Hürth – here, in a chemical factory there, hydrogen was produced in the normal production cycl.

APTS Phileas 18 in Hürth | © Christian Marquordt

There were excellent technical conceptual ideas built into the Phileas. Nevertheless, APTS had a problem: it was simply too early to “early”. There was virtually no demand for “fuel cell buses”, and the fuel cells (from the Canadian manufacturer Ballard) were extremely expensive. When there were a few teething problems with the new technology – not unusual with a completely new technology – APTS did not have enough resources to survive the start-up phase. Unfortunately, the company ended in insolvency in November 2014. It is a pity: as just mentioned Phileas was full of very good ideas. One little example: on the test site, the Phileas could approach the stop in a kind of “parallel shift” and thus always stand perfectly parallel to the curb.

2014: The first Van Hool hydrogen buses from RVK

In May 2014, RVK put its next hydrogen buses into service. Now two buses from the Belgian manufacturer Van Hool as no. 400 and 500. Both are of the type “New A 330 FC”. They are different from the 30 new ones on delivery right now as the A 330 FC from 2014 had to be three-axle for weight reasons. In the meantime, Van Hool has been successful in reducing the weight of his fuel cell bus in such a way that today – as is quite normal with 12-metre-long buses – they can have only two axles.

Van Hool New A 330 FC of 2014, Bus 400, at the presentation in May 2014  in Brühl | © Christian Marquordt

During the World Climate Summit in Bonn in November 2017, the two A 330 FC ran on a special line in Bonn between Bonn-Bad Godesberg station and the science centre in Ahrstraße, to present this new technology to the participants and guests of the conference. During the two weeks of their deployment in Bonn,they had to return daily to Refueling in Hürth,about 40 kilometres away, because there was (and is) their gas station. In normal use, both cars run in the city traffic of Hürth and into the neighbouring town of Brühl – so they do not have to drive many empty kilometres to get to their gas station.

The new buses have a range of 350 kilometers, which allows them to easily operate virtually any route from the depot exit in the early morning until the return late at night.

As Van Hool had already had some experience with the construction of fuel cell buses – several such cars had already been delivered to the USA – the RVK did not face any kind of teething problems with the two A 330 FC from 2014.

RVK 500 built in 2014 at the world climate Conference in Bonn during November 2017 | © Christian Marquordt  

2019 / 2020: Major order for 30 Van Hool New A 330 FC



In view of the limited range of state-of -the-art battery buses, RVK CEO Eugen Puderbach said years ago that battery buses were not eligible for RVK. “Battery buses with depot charging still over not enough range range, and we try to avoid building up opportunity charging infrastructure along the route because of the immense costs that would have to incur if we wanted to connect a lot of these intermediate charging stations to the general powergrid.”

As a consequence RVK considered fuel cell buses was eligible for its purposes. At the end of 2018 it was decided to order 30 New A 330 FC from Van Hool. In order to make use of economies of scale, the Wuppertaler Stadtwerke (WSW) took part in this order with a further 10 cars. The RVK will refuel at the various chemical factories in the Cologne/Bonn/Leverkusen area, Wuppertal has a plant within the Stadtwerke group.

The new Van Hool New A 330 FC have its fuel cell and also the pressure bottles that make up the hydrogen tank on its roof. The first of the bus for RVK (no. 406) was exhibited at the UITP Congress in Stockholm in June 2019.

About line 423

The first five new Van Hool fuel cell buses of the RVK belong to the depot in Bergisch Gladbach. They are used on line 423 from Cologne/Bonn airport via Rösrath to the Bergisch Gladbach-Bensberg (interchange with Cologne Stadtbahn line 1). Every second journey continues to the terminus of the S-Bahn line S 11 in the city centre of Bergisch Gladbach.

From Monday to Friday, the line runs every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., then every hour until 11:30 p.m. On Saturdays, the line runs every 60 minutes from 6.30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on Sundays and public holidays, there is also an hourly service from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The buses run absolutely emission-free on the road. The only thing they emit is water vapor and chemically pure (!) water.

The new Van Hool New A 330 FC on line 423 refuel at Cologne/Bonn airport. Airport Colgne/Bonn has already built up a hydrogen infrastructure here some time ago, which now also serves to refuel the buses.

Further plans: More fuel cell buses for RVK

Line 423 requires only five of the 30 new hydrogen buses of the RVK. The 25 others will be stationed at the Meckenheim depots (near Bonn) and Wermelskirchen (near Remscheid). For this purpose, a hydrogen filling station was built in Meckenheim, which was approaching completion at the end of December. Since there is no relevant chemical industry in Meckenheim and the surrounding area, this filling station will have to be supplied with hydrogen.

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