The world’s first hydrogen fuel cell passenger train service began operating in Germany on Sunday (16th September).

The emission-free train, which uses fuel cells that convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, was launched at an event in Bremervörde.

The Coradia iLint, built by French railway manufacturer Alstom in Germany, will run on a fixed timetable operated by Eisenbahnen und Verkehrsbetriebe Elbe-Weser (EVB), a German railway and bus company.

Two hydrogen trains capable of reaching speeds of 140km per hour started operating commercially on 17th September in Lower Saxony, running on nearly 100km of line between Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervörde and Buxtehude in northern Germany.

The hydrogen fuel cell trains will replace EVB’s diesel fleet in a breakthrough for green fuel.

“This is a revolution for Alstom and for the future of mobility,” Henri Poupart-Lafarge, the chairman and CEO of Alstom, said.

“The world’s first hydrogen fuel cell train is entering passenger service and is ready for serial production.

“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.”

The new trains will be fuelled at a mobile hydrogen filling station where hydrogen gas will be pumped into the trains from a 40-foot-high steel container next to the tracks at Bremervörde station.

On one tank, the trains can run throughout the network the whole day with a total autonomy of 1000km. 

Alstom will deliver a further 14 Coradia iLint trains to local transport services Landesnahverkehrsgesellschaft Niedersachsen (LNVG) in 2021.

Dr. Bernd Althusmann, Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economy and Transport, whose department has supported LNVG’s purchase of another 14 hydrogen trains with more than €81m, said: “The emission-free drive technology of the Coradia iLint provides a climate-friendly alternative to conventional diesel trains, particularly on non-electrified lines.

“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. The state government of Lower Saxony is proud of putting this trendsetting project on the track together with LNVG.”

LNVG chief Carmen Schwabl, whose authority organises the rail passenger transport between the North Sea and the Harz mountains and pays €300m to railway companies, said: “With the two Coradia iLint trains and with the use of another 14 hydrogen trains from the end of 2021, we are the first passenger rail transport authority to replace existing diesel vehicles by emission-free vehicles, thus contributing better to the fulfilment of the climate protection goals.

“We also do this because about 120 diesel trainsets in our vehicle pool will reach the end of their lifetime within the next 30 years, meaning we will have to replace them. The experience gained with this project helps us find a sustainable and practical solution.”