Fleet of hydrogen passenger trains debuts in Germany

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Coradia iLint hydrogen-powered trains have entered service in Germany. (Photo Courtesy of Alstom)

The world's first fleet of hydrogen-powered passenger trains has launched in Germany, officials there said. The 14 new trains will gradually replace 15 diesel trains that previously operated on nonelectrified tracks in the state of Lower Saxony.

The new trains, built by French company Alstom, use hydrogen fuel cells to generate the electricity needed to power the engines. The German government has backed expanding the use of hydrogen as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.

Lower Saxony governor Stephan Weil said the about $92 million project is a great example of his state's efforts to make its economy greener.

"This project is setting a global example, it is an outstanding example for a successful transformation that is 'Made in Lower Saxony,'" Weil said. "As a renewable energy state, we mark another milestone on the road towards climate neutrality in our transport sector."

Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge said the Coradia iLint is the world's first model of hydrogen-powered train. 

"Emission free mobility is one of the most important goals for ensuring a sustainable future and Alstom has a clear ambition to become the world leader in alternative propulsion systems for rail," Poupart-Lafarge said. "We are very proud to bring this technology into series operation as part of a world premiere, together with our great partners."

The regional rail company LNVG operates the trains on routes between the northern towns of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde and Buxtehude. The government chose to switch to fuel cell trains rather than electrify the route, as is being done elsewhere in the country, because the latter would be cost-prohibitive in this region.

"A breath of fresh air is blowing through Northern Germany," LNVG managing director and spokesperson Carmen Schwabl said in a statement. "This is the very first passenger rail network in the world on which hydrogen fuel-cell-powered multiple units are in regular operation."

The Coradia iLint trains have a range of up to 1,000 kilometers, which is about 621 miles, and a maximum speed of 140 kph (about 87 mph), according to Alstom. By using hydrogen produced with renewable energy, the trains will save more than 422,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.

The hydrogen is currently produced as a byproduct in chemical processes but gas company Linde plans to manufacture it locally using only renewable energy within three years.