World’s first fleet of hydrogen trains begin operation in Germany

World’s first fleet of hydrogen trains begin operation in Germany

Last Wednesday, Germany’s first-ever hydrogen train line was opened. The line in Lower Saxony has fourteen trains, all powered by hydrogen, and has been hailed as a major step towards decarbonising public transport.

German hydrogen rail line commences operations

In what has been described as a major step in the decarbonisation of rail travel, Germany opened the world’s first hydrogen train line. A fleet of 14 trains, running entirely on hydrogen, have commenced operations in Lower Saxony, on the line connecting the German cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervörde and Buxtehude.

The hydrogen trains have replaced the diesel trains that originally ferried passengers up and down the line in Lower Saxony. Hydrogen trains help to reduce CO2 emissions by using a fuel cell to turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water.

Hydrogen trains suitable for regional lines

Hydrogen trains are more suitable for smaller, regional lines, as the cost of transitioning to electric trains can often be more expensive that the profits made on long-distance trains. However, the transport sector is not the only industry looking to use hydrogen to reduce its CO2 emissions. The automotive industry is also using the technology, as are the aviation, steel and chemical industries.

Germany also lacks the necessary infrastructure for a large-scale transition to hydrogen power. "For this reason, we do not see a 100% replacement of diesel trains by hydrogen", said rail expert Alexandre Charpentier to French news agency AFP. The line in Lower Saxony will initially use hydrogen generated as a by-product by certain industries.

Another problem is that hydrogen is not necessarily carbon-free. Hydrogen is usually generated through the use of fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases.

Hydrogen trains designed in France

The hydrogen trains operating in Lower Saxony were supplied by French transport manufacturer Alstom. The trains, named Coradia iLint, were designed in France and assembled in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony. The trains have been in commercial trials since 2018.

Alstom has signed multiple contracts for its hydrogen trains in Germany, France and Italy. It has been estimated that between 2.500 and 3.000 diesel trains could be replaced with these hydrogen models. “By 2035, around 15 to 20 percent of the regional European market could run on hydrogen,” said Charpentier.

German manufacturing company Siemens has also entered the market for hydrogen trains. The international company revealed its prototype last year with Deutsche Bahn and expects to start producing the trains on a large scale by 2024.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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