The world’s first hydrogen train—the Coradia iLint—has completed its maiden voyage. The train heralds a new era of rail travel.
The German rail industry is hardly known for regularly bringing out dazzling technical innovations. In terms of innovation, rolling out Wi-Fi across its fleet of passenger trains was considered a highlight. Last week, however, an innovation was announced in Salzgitter in Lower Saxony, attracting journalists from across the world, that could herald a new chapter in the history of rail travel. The world’s first hydrogen-powered passenger train—the Coradia iLint model —successfully completed its maiden voyage.
The low-floor train from the French rail technology provider Alstom is completely emission-free. Fuel cells and hydrogen tanks are fitted to the roof of the 300-seater carriage. The hydrogen reacts with oxygen from the surrounding air, producing energy for the train’s engine. The only waste products from this process are steam and water. The idea of bringing fuel cell technology to the rails is by no means entirely new. However, earlier models consistently experienced teething problems such as insufficient range and low maximum speeds, which prevented economical use.
Environmentally friendly hydrogen train
Its intelligent power management and available energy make the Coradia iLint the first promising prototype. Surplus energy is stored in batteries in the floor of the train, which can then be used to supply onboard systems such as the doors and air conditioning, for example. According to its manufacturer, the train has a range of approximately 800 kilometers per tank of hydrogen.
For the test journeys, a mobile fuel station was constructed in Salzgitter to pump the gaseous hydrogen into the train’s pressure accumulator. As an energy supply is required to produce this fuel, Alstrom has stated that it will continue to use surplus hydrogen from industrial processes. In the long-term, the production of hydrogen will be assisted by wind power.
A silent alternative to diesel trains
The Coradia iLint is especially suitable for use on non-electrified tracks — these are currently mainly used by diesel trains. Compared to combustion-driven trains, the hydrogen train demonstrates a marked improvement in balancing noise and environmental considerations. Thanks to the train’s virtually silent electric engine, the only sounds that can be heard during the journey are those made by the rolling wheels and air resistance.
The Coradia iLint could also prove interesting for future electric rail systems. This is because—as anyone who often travels by train knows—the infrastructure required for electric rail transport is particularly prone to disruption. Whether it’s a snagged cable, a fallen tree, or a short circuit caused by something else, a faulty overhead line can cripple the entire rail service for several hours. Now that the hydrogen train has completed its maiden voyage, reaching speeds of up to 80 kilometers per hour, further tests will be completed in the coming weeks. In these tests, the train is expected to reach a maximum speed of 140 km/h. If successful, the hydrogen train will be allowed to carry its first passengers on the Buxtehude–Bremervörde–Bremerhaven–Cuxhaven line from the beginning of 2018.