The world’s first hydrogen train

Written by Theo Konig – September 09, 2021

Reviewed by Kfir Kedem

Today in northern France, on the tracks of the Centre d’Essais Ferroviaires in Valenciennes, the iLint has begun its testing as the world’s first passenger train powered by hydrogen fuel.

Developed by French company Alstom, the iLint is a zero-emission train, meaning that the only exhausts produced are steam and condensed water. The train is currently undergoing tests in France but is already commercially run in parts of Germany and Austria.

Currently in France (and in Europe in general) many railway lines still suffer from a lack of electrification. This boils down to the high set-up costs (retrofitting overhead lines on many rural routes) and the high maintenance costs, all of which make it simply economically unfeasible for an electric overhead railway line. These lines are thus left to be operated by diesel, which France is hoping to phase out by 2040.

The hydrogen fuel cell offers a clean, and flexible solution to the problem. The iLint uses the existing infrastructure and allows the remaining non-electrified routes to remain this way for the foreseeable future. Initially unveiled in 2016 in Berlin, the iLint officially entered commercial business in 2018 in Germany. Since then, a further 41 iLint train sets have been ordered by the state-owned railway company Deutsche Bahn, while French company SNCF has ordered 12 units themselves.

Alstom have also released a battery-electric/hydrogen-fuel hybrid of the iLint, as well as just a pure battery-electric model, all of which are destined to serve routes not fully covered by overhead lines. Battery-electric models have the added advantage of being able to re-charge when passing routes with overhead lines. The current models of battery-electric can bridge over 100km of non-electrified routes.

Auto Trendy’s take:

Hydrogen-powered trains are finally making an advance. Rather than watching routes be abandoned or stay diesel forever, European governments have opted for either hydrogen or battery-electric solutions. And the craze is slowly starting to take over the rest of Europe too. Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria (already mentioned) as well as Italy have also placed orders for zero-emission Alstom trains. The only question left is whether governments will opt for hydrogen or battery-electric?