Overview of Hydrogen Powered train on World Environment Day

the world's first hydrogen fuel cell train, in this article you will learn How do hydrogen trains work

Hydrogen Powered train: Alstom Coradia iLint
Hydrogen Powered train: Alstom
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The environment is one of today’s main issue with all societies being concerned. According to the annual ‘State of Global Air 2020’ report, around 6.7 million deaths were reported globally due to long-term exposure to air pollution in 2019. China (1.8 million) and India (1.6 million) together accounted for more than half of such deaths. Researchers from McGill University stated that over half of the world’s population lives without the protection of adequate air quality standards. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter are two of the most dangerous air contaminants to human health. While stating that air pollution is globally the fourth highest cause of death, the report suggests that it is the largest risk factor for deaths in India.

With the global demand for passenger traffic expected to increase by more than double between 2015 and 2050, there is an urgent need to take substantive steps to cut emissions from transport. Sustainability is going to be the biggest game-changer going forward. Leading societies to a low carbon future, Alstom develops and markets mobility solutions that provide the sustainable foundations for the future of transportation. When it comes to hydrogen cell-powered trains, Alstom is the only company in the world to have a product on tracks and not merely on the drawing board. The Coradia iLint is the world’s first passenger train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, which produces electrical power for traction. This zero-emission train emits low levels of noise, with exhaust being only steam and condensed water. It is a perfect illustration for the company’s commitment to designing and delivering innovative and environmentally friendly solutions.

In line with the aim to facilitate a global transition to a low-carbon transport system, it was at InnoTrans 2016 in Berlin that Alstom presented the Coradia iLint for the first time. The launch of the CO2-emission-free regional train that represents a true alternative to diesel power positioned the company as the first railway manufacturers in the world to develop a passenger train based on hydrogen technology. The Coradia iLint is special for its combination of different innovative elements: clean energy conversion, flexible energy storage in batteries, and smart management of traction power and available energy. Specifically designed for operation on non-electrified lines, it enables clean, sustainable train operation while ensuring high-performance levels. And just two years later, in 2018, the iLint entered into commercial service in Germany. This is the first time in the world that commercial trains powered by hydrogen-based cell have gone into use for transporting passengers.

This technology is gaining momentum quickly. Alstom has performed ten days of tests of the Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell train on the 65 kilometres of line between Groningen and Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands. The tests follow 18 successful months of passenger service on the Buxtehude–Bremervörde–Bremerhaven–Cuxhaven line in Germany, where total of 41 Coradia iLint have already been ordered. The latest tests make the Netherlands the second country in Europe where the train has proven itself a unique emissions-free solution for non-electrified lines. Alstom has received follow-up orders in Italy and France, led a pilot project in the UK and ran successful test runs in Austria, and Germany. Other countries already looking into buying their trains including U.K, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Italy and Canada.

The iLint was designed by Alstom teams in Salzgitter (Germany), the centre of excellence for regional trains, and in Tarbes (France), the centre of excellence for traction systems. This project benefitted from the support of the German Ministry of Economy and Mobility and the development of the Coradia iLint was funded by the German government, as part of the National Innovation Program for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP).

Some specifications of Coradia iLint:

  • According to the company, the trains are low-noise, zero-emission and can reach speeds of up to 140km per hour.
  • For now, the train will only operate on 100 km of line running between Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervörde and Buxtenhiede though they are capable of running longer distances.
  • These will replace the current diesel fleet on the train line and help reduce emission.
  • Alstom plans to delivers a further 14 Coradia iLint trains to the network by 2021.
  • Hydrogen is seen as a low-emission and efficient alternative to diesel, ensuring that the trains are environment friendly.
  • Each train cost $7 million (around 50 crore rupee)   

How does it work?

The Coradia iLint is the first low floor passenger train worldwide powered by a hydrogen fuel cell which produce electric power. This zero-emission train is silent and only emits steaming condensed water and any excess energy is stored in iron lithium batteries on board. The train hydrogen tank feeds a fuel cell that generates energy, which is then pushed to an electrical drive train and has a small battery which help to maintain power continuity as well as storing energy safe from regenerative braking. These new hydrogens can run for about 600 miles or 1000 kilometer on a single tank of hydrogen. Similar to the range of diesel trains, it will run 100 kilometer trips at up to 87 miles or 140 kilometers per hour, so they operate in the same way as existing diesel trains to avoid any culture shock for passengers and crew except that they need to refuel their 1000 kilometer capacity tanks are dedicated h2 fueling stations these trains would be a great addition to any regional area where diesel trains can’t be run. They may be more expensive to buy but it’s cheaper to run out to mention they are quiet and have zero-emission.

Why Germany has launched this train

CORADIA ilint Train Chart

Air pollution has become an increasing problem in Germany, with nitrous dioxide causing over 10,000 premature deaths in 2016. Germany is very sensitive in these matters and took it seriously. Alstom is optimistic that the Coradia iLint trains will catch on, with a focus on making non-electrified train lines more environmentally friendly.

India on hydrogen powered trains

Indian Railway plans hydrogen-powered engine for passenger trains by end of 2021

Alstom Coradia iLint
Overview of Hydrogen Powered train on World Environment Day 3

As part of efforts to find alternative sources of fuel to power its trains, and to reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources like diesel and electricity, Indian Railways has set in motion efforts to build a hydrogen-powered rail engine that can propel a passenger train on a suburban route by the end of 2021.

Bids Invited for Hydrogen Fuel Cell-Based Hybrid Train Between Kalka and Shimla. The tender was initially floated in October 2019, and the bid submission deadline was December 31, 2020. The Indian Railways Organization for Alternate Fuels (IROAF) has issued a request for proposals to build a hydrogen fuel cell-based hybrid power train for retrofitting the 700 HP diesel hydraulic locomotives that operate on the narrow-gauge Kalka-Shimla segment in Himachal Pradesh. The scope of work will include the design, supply, and retrofitting, testing, certification, prove out, and field trials of fuel cell and battery-based power stack modules, hydrogen storage, power electronics, and related facilities, as well as engineering and supervision work for retrofitting on diesel-hydraulic locomotives.

As per the tender document, the total energy requirement for up and down trips based on actual driving cycles, is 1,556 kWh and 1,170 kWh, respectively. The power train, consisting of the primary energy source as the proton exchange membrane fuel cell and secondary energy source, which is the battery bank, should meet the peak power requirement. The power train should have minimal weight and not exceed the structural limits of the locomotive underframe, bogies, and superstructure. The energy management strategy should be designed such that the battery state remains the same from the start of the cycle to the end.

The diesel-hydraulic locomotive could be designed to operate in temperatures ranging from 10 to 55 degrees Celsius. The locomotive can have to run in an extremely dusty setting, necessitating the use of lithium-ion batteries. Alternative batteries, however, would be approved depending on efficiency. Indian Railways has been pursuing clean technology solutions to become a net-zero emitter by 2030.


  • Cost

Purchasing and assembling hydrogen-powered trains is more costly than diesel locomotives. Nonetheless, since lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable, the operating and replacement costs will be smaller in the long term.

  • Speed

These hydrogen-powered trains can travel at a top speed of 140 km/h, which is comparable to diesel and electric trains.

  • Green economy

Using hydrogen propulsion in trains would help to reduce vehicular emissions.

  • Revenue

Hydrogen-powered trains emit no noise and can have new amenities, enticing more people to ride by rail.

  • Capacity

Hydrogen-powered trains can transport up to 300 passengers at once, increasing vehicular capacity.


  • Production

Hydrogen is not abundant in the atmosphere. As a result, it necessitates an energy input as well as a set of procedures to generate, transport, and then use it. The challenge is to find the most cost-effective and convenient one by extensive research and development.

  • Infrastructure for refuelling and delivery

If hydrogen must be refilled into onboard cylinders, technology and distribution infrastructure must be built.

  • High production costs

While hydrogen-powered trains prove to be more cost effective in the long run, they are still more costly than diesel locomotives, costing about Rs. 53.29 crore per engine.

  • Uncertainty over freight applications

The technology is efficient enough to shuttle passenger services. However, it is unclear if the same can be used to pull heavyweight freight traffic. 


According to a report by Strategy&, the strategy consulting arm of management consulting firm PwC., global demand for hydrogen will almost double from 71 to 137 million metric tons per year by 2040, compared with 2019. The growth will be primarily due to the decarbonization of various sectors such as transportation, aviation and industry. Demand is expected to reach 519 million metric tons by 2070.

In India, the year 2021 is projected to be the year of hydrogen fuel cells. Certainly, this will be the most powerful driving force in meeting the goal of electrifying the entire rail network by 2024. This will make it the world’s first railway of this scale and complexity to operate solely on electricity. So far, 37,500 km (58%) of routes are electrified with 25 KVAC electric traction in India.               

In the future, hydrogen is projected to be the most exciting technology for establishing a zero-emission railway network in India by 2030, paving the way for a more prosperous future.

World First Hydrogen Fuel Train | How do hydrogen trains works?


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