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World's First Zero-Emissions Hydrogen Trains Enter Service

The Coradia iLint. Alstom/René Frampe

The world's first hydrogen fuel cell train officially entered commercial service in the German state of Lower Saxony on Monday.

The Coradia iLint, developed by French railway manufacturer Alstom, features fuel cells that convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, emitting nothing but steam and water. The low-noise train can reach up to 140 kilometers (87 miles) per hour and accommodate up to 300 passengers.


Two such models entered service, replacing some of the noisy, diesel-fueled trains that had been in circulation. Alstom has plans to deliver another 14 Coradia iLints to Lower Saxony by 2021, according to a company press release. The state government has invested €81 million (about $94.7 million) for the technology.

Roughly 120 diesel trains in the existing fleet will reach the end of their lifetime within the next 30 years, meaning the new trains could be a sustainable and practical replacement going forward, a transport official noted.

"The emission-free drive technology of the Coradia iLint provides a climate-friendly alternative to conventional diesel trains, particularly on non-electrified lines," Bernd Althusmann, Lower Saxony's Minister of Economy and Transport, said in the release. "In successfully proving the operability of the fuel cell technology in daily service, we will set the course for rail transport to be largely operated climate-friendly and emission-free in the future."

Passengers will be able to take the new, bright blue trains on a 100-kilometer (62-mile) line running between Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervörde and Buxtehude on a fixed timetable.

The two Coradia iLints are fueled at a mobile hydrogen filling station. Hydrogen gets pumped into the train via a 40-foot-high steel container next to the tracks at Bremervörde station. At a full tank, the train can run a full day with up to 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of autonomy, a range similar to diesel trains. Excess energy is stored with onboard lithium batteries.

"This is a revolution for Alstom and for the future of mobility. The world's first hydrogen fuel cell train is entering passenger service and is ready for serial production," Henri Poupart-Lafarge, chairman and CEO of Alstom, said in the release. "The Coradia iLint heralds a new era in emission-free rail transport. It is an innovation that results from French-German teamwork and exemplifies successful cross-border cooperation."

Alstom said that Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Italy and Canada are also looking into the technology, Agence France-Presse reported. France also wants hydrogen trains to be on its rails by 2022.

"Sure, buying a hydrogen train is somewhat more expensive than a diesel train, but it is cheaper to run," Stefan Schrank, the project's manager at Alstom, told AFP.

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