The future of ecologically friendly transport might just have arrived, and Germany is leading the push, with the first-ever rail line operated solely on hydrogen-powered trains starting this Wednesday.
A hydrogen-powered regional train in Bremervörde, Germany. Credit: AP
The route in Bremervörde, Lower Saxony, will be solely served by fourteen hydrogen trains powered by fuel cell technology. The 93-million-euro contract was reached between the railway's owners, Landesnahverkehrsgesellschaft Niedersachsen (LVNG), and Alstom, the manufacturer of the Coradia iLint trains. The project also includes the Elbe-Weser Railways and Transport Business (EVB), which will run the trains, and the gas and engineering company Linde.
The trains, five of which will make their debut on Wednesday, will progressively replace the route's 15 diesel trains, with all 14 operating solely by the end of the year. One kilogram of hydrogen fuel is equivalent to approximately 4.5 kilograms of diesel fuel.
The trains emit no pollution and produce little noise, emitting only steam and condensed water from the exhaust. They have a range of 1,000 kilometers, which means they may operate on the network for a full day on a single tank of hydrogen. On the road, a hydrogen filling station has already been erected. The trains may reach speeds of up to 140 kph, while average speeds on the route range from 80 to 120 kph.
"Emission-free mobility is one of the most important goals for ensuring a sustainable future," said Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Alstom's CEO, in a statement.
The purchase has taken a decade to finalize. According to a news statement, LVNG has been seeking diesel alternatives since 2012, and Alstom conducted a two-year-long test period of the trains in 2018. Germany now has around 4,000 diesel trains operating on non-electrified lines. Austria, Poland, Sweden, and the Netherlands have also tested the Coradia iLint.
Linde operates the fueling station, which contains 64 high-pressure storage tanks, six hydrogen compressors, and two fuel pumps.
Lower Saxony's President, Stephan Weil, termed the announcement a "model for the rest of the world" and a "milestone on the road to climate neutrality in the transportation sector."
The trains' next stop will be Frankfurt, where 27 will be delivered to the metropolitan region. They will also stop in Italy, where six trains will be used in the northern Lombardy area, and France, where 12 trains will be divided over four regions.