This summer, North America’s first hydrogen-powered train began traveling across the Canadian countryside. The French passenger train is a short-term demonstration, running through the end of September, that aims to spark adoption in Canada and the US. “I think the most important thing that’s going to come out of it is people’s awareness and comfort with the technology,” Robert Stasko, executive director of Ontario’s Hydrogen Business Council, told CBC News.
The Canadian loaner runs from Montmorency Falls in Quebec City to Baie-Saint-Paul — a two-and-a-half hour trip — on Wednesdays to Sundays through September 30th. The train has a top speed of 140 km/h (87 mph) and can carry up to 120 people in its two passenger cars. The French company Alstom, which makes the train, says its acceleration and braking performance is comparable to standard diesel-engine trains — sans the emissions. While much of Europe uses trains with electric rails or overhead wires, hydrogen trains are ideal for places like the Canadian countryside, with its long distances and relatively low commuter density. (Much of the US would fit that bill as well.)
The same model of train, the Coradia iLint, has already made runs in eight European countries. As many as 14 of the same model began running a route in Lower Saxony, Germany, last year. Alstom began testing the trains in 2018 and has additional contracts in Germany, Italy and France. The company says European clients have ordered 41 of the trainsets.
The Coradia iLint uses a ballpark of “about 50 kilograms of hydrogen a day,” says Serge Harnois, CEO of Hanois Énergies, the train’s hydrogen fuel supplier. The same journey using a standard engine would burn around 500 liters of diesel fuel. It only emits water vapor along its journey as a byproduct of combining hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate its power.
There are some asterisks to attach to the three-month demo. First, it requires a diesel-powered truck to transport the hydrogen to the train every time it refuels. (Harnois says that, ideally, the hydrogen would eventually be produced onsite to avoid this step.) We also have to wonder about the emissions produced on its presumed voyage from Europe to Canada for its mere three-month demo. However, the train will move on to other North American cities after its summer residence. The long-term goal is for the tour to help promote widespread hydrogen-train adoption across different North American regions, which — if successful — could more than offset the carbon footprint from its diesel-truck top-offs and journey across the Atlantic.