André Voskuil, Senior Manager
Press Release. It is really a big step forward, a step into the future of emission-free and sustainable transport solutions. It’s the first time ever that hydrogen fuel-cell trains are entering commercial operation in a ‘serial’ mode, and these Coradia iLint trains will be in operation for the next 30 years.
The beauty of hydrogen technology is that operators can run the trains like they did before – a ‘drop-in’ replacement for diesel. Diesel trains operate over 600 or 800 kilometres a day and then refuel at the end of the day. You can do that with a hydrogen train as well. You don’t need to make any infrastructural changes; you just need a hydrogen refuelling station instead of a diesel one.
Our hydrogen-powered Coradia iLint is now in serial production for two customers in Germany. Tell us more about the recent improvements.
We’ve learned a lot from the operation of the two pre-serial trains and transferred our experience into the new serial trains. For example, we’ve improved the traction performance, mainly the acceleration, as well as the passenger experience, making the trains more comfortable, with better air conditioning and connectivity.
Maintainability is one of the focal points, and together with our fuel cell supplier, we have improved the fuel cells both to increase performance and reduce maintenance hours. Energy management has been enhanced in general, optimising the collaboration between fuel cell, battery, as well as the traction and auxiliary system.
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What were the success factors in making the Coradia iLint the first hydrogen-powered passenger train in commercial service?
To go back in history, in 2014, we were thinking about the future of diesel trains, and it was already clear that there was a demand for reducing emissions and for more sustainable transport solutions. Our experts began investigating different technology possibilities and we found that hydrogen could be a viable solution. Some of our main customers really liked the idea of finding an alternative, so they were motivating us. In Germany, at that time, and still today, there was a political environment that was open to innovation, and we were supported by the government.
In 2016, we were able to present the first pre-serial train at Innotrans. Public transport firms liked it and we signed letters of intent with four PTAs, saying that if we developed such a train, they would have a high interest in buying it. That really helped us to make progress. Then there was the dedication of the development team itself. This small team wanted to do something sustainable, something revolutionary or ‘railvolutionary’, if you like. All these things have led to our success today.
What are the advantages of the Coradia iLint and its hydrogen traction?
The first and most obvious fact is that this is a zero-emission train, with no harmful emissions. The only exhaust it has is water and water vapour. This gives the fuel-cell trains a real advantage over diesel trains. Also, compared with diesel trains, there is no internal combustion engine, which means you have much less noise emissions and don't have vibrations. This not only benefits the operator but also the passengers on board.
There's also another technology which can be used on non-electrified lines: the battery train. Hydrogen fuel cell and battery technologies are complementary and there’s a market for both. Battery trains are more suitable for networks with shorter non-electrified sections or partial electrification, whereas the hydrogen fuel-cell train is a good solution for lines and networks where you have longer sections without electrification. The Coradia iLint has a range of 1,000 kilometres, so it can operate for a day or two without refuelling, whereas battery trains need to recharge more regularly during the operation. It’s a matter of which technology suits the needs of the customer best.