How Hydrogen Trains Are Transforming Passenger Rail

November 9, 2020
Dive into the world of hydrogen trains and discover the latest advances in sustainable transportation.

How Hydrogen Trains Are Transforming Passenger Rail

The UK is currently working towards a target to decarbonise the economy by 2050, including the removal of all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040.

Scotland, even further, is aiming to deliver a decarbonised rail network by 2030. These targets are crucial to improving air quality, public health and emissions, in particular the levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) around London stations. London Paddington, for example, is currently in breach of the NO2 European limit.

Electrification can go some way toward reaching these goals but it is not a full solution. Not all suburban areas are equipped for overhead lines and electricity still ultimately results in unfriendly emissions.

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What Do We Mean By Hydrogen Trains?

In this context, hydrogen trains are actually hybrids. Hydrogen as a sole power source is not sustainable for two reasons.

  • Hydrogen requires storage 8 times the volume of diesel.
  • Hydrogen traction needs 3kW of electricity to deliver 1kW of power to the wheel.

Alstom’s hybrid trains, the Coradia iLints, combine hydrogen with Li-Ion batteries to combat these issues.

UKs first ever Hydrogen powered train, source: Alstom

How Does It Work?

The Coradia iLint was announced in 2014. Now it is in its second year of operation in Germany, where it runs among a fleet of traditional trains. A full fleet should be in service by 2023.

Hydrogen Trains In The UK

The UK is now working to convert Class 321 electric trains into hydrogen hybrids. The impact of this could be huge. 1,200 hydrogen trains on the UK network could save:

  • 533,000 equivalent tonnes of CO2 a year
  • The equivalent of taking 383,000 cars off the road
  • £100 million a year in healthcare costs
  • 110 premature deaths

The Ongoing Challenge

The zero-emissions challenge should not just apply to trains themselves. Producing hydrogen still uses fossil fuels and a proper, sustainable supply and demand system needs to be established as the trend towards hydrogen trains increases.

Additionally, the refuelling of hydrogen trains currently has to operate on a return to base model which is a change, but a necessary sacrifice. The next goal for Alstom is a train that does not need this model.


In conclusion, the development of hydrogen trains represents a significant step forward in the transition to cleaner and more sustainable forms of transportation. With the potential to reduce harmful emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, hydrogen trains offer a promising solution to the environmental challenges facing the transportation sector. Hydrogen trains are a promising clean energy solution for rail transport. They emit only water, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and offer long-term cost savings.

Despite the many benefits of hydrogen trains, there are also challenges to their widespread adoption. The high cost of building the necessary infrastructure for producing and distributing hydrogen, as well as the cost of the trains themselves, remains a significant obstacle. Furthermore, hydrogen fuel cells currently have lower energy density than fossil fuels, meaning that hydrogen trains may not be able to travel as far on a single tank of fuel.

Despite these challenges, the development of hydrogen trains is an important step forward in the search for sustainable transportation solutions. With further investment and research, it is likely that the cost and efficiency of hydrogen trains will continue to improve, making them a more viable option for replacing diesel trains on a larger scale.

Ultimately, the adoption of hydrogen trains represents an important opportunity to address the environmental impact of the transportation sector. As the global community continues to seek out solutions to the challenges of climate change, hydrogen trains offer the most promising way to reduce emissions and move towards a more sustainable future.

How Hydrogen Trains Are Transforming Passenger Rail

Will Doyle


I am an experienced RICS chartered Quantity Surveyor​ with first-hand experience of how the consistent capture and analysis of data can transform global project delivery.

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