Are hydrogen powered trains the future of rail?

Could this silent, sustainably powered, low-emission train be the first of a new wave of environmentally-friendly rail transport solutions? 

Alstom call their new Coradia iLint the ‘train of the future’. It certainly could be, given that it’s the world’s first passenger train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, capable of almost noiseless traction with no emissions apart from water as steam.

The Coradia iLint was first presented to the world at the Innotrans rail industry trade fair in 2016. It is the world’s first, and as yet, only, hydrogen fuel cell passenger train and Alstom believes it could initiate a new movement in the industry towards hydrogen-powered trains.

The overall design is based on Alstom’s successful Coradia Lint diesel train, available in single car or articulated two or three car units. High-strength stainless steel is used in the car shells as it is corrosion resistant and longer lasting than other materials. High-strength steel enables the use of thinner gauges and thus helps to reduce weight. High strength steel’s ability to deliver the required toughness at a lower weight means lower carbon emissions and improved fuel efficiency.



The train’s fuel cell sits on top of the roof of the vehicle, utilising gaseous hydrogen supplied from a mobile hydrogen filling station. This is pumped into a pressure tank, also situated on the roof, which feeds the fuel cell. The hydrogen is currently sourced from industry as a by-product, but Alstom hopes to produce hydrogen, via electrolysis, from wind power in the near future.

The electricity generated by the fuel cell provides the power for traction with only water emitted as steam. Excess electricity is stored in lithium ion batteries located beneath the vehicle. Next to the battery set is an auxiliary converter that supplies electricity to various on-board systems.

The iLint’s fuel cell only works when the vehicle is accelerating, powering down when it brakes, thereby saving hydrogen, and managed by the train’s smart energy management system and its flexible energy storage capacity.

The electricity generated by the fuel cell provides the power for traction with only water emitted as steam.

The train has a low-floor so its easy to access, and it generates little sound, thereby reducing noise nuisance for local communities. Given that the iLint can travel for up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of hydrogen, travelling at speeds of up to 140kph, Alstom believes it is ideal for non-electrified routes.

The iLint was designed by Alstom at the company’s Salzgitter site in Lower Saxony, Germany, with the traction system and brakes designed separately at two sites in France, at Tarbes and Ornans. The vehicle’s first successful test took place in March 2017 at Salzgitter, followed by further tests at Velim in the Czech Republic. It is now fully commissioned, with electrical and pneumatic systems tested and the vehicles battery, pressure tank and fuel cell certified by TÜV Süd.

The aim is for Coradia iLint to replace existing diesel multiple units, such as those currently operating between Bremervörde, Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven where 14 units will take over from December 2021, operated by Elbe-Weser-Verkehrsbetriebe (evb). A trial run on the evb network is due to commence in the Spring.

Safe, silent, and sustainably powered; the future of rail travel has arrived.


Images: Alstom
Video: Alstom