Unlike other forms of transportation, the railroad industry is already fairly familiar with electric power.

Electric trains that use overhead wires or an electrified third rail for power are already commonplace on world railroads.

But the infrastructure demands of electric trains are considerable, limiting where it is practical to deploy them.

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Which is why French rail-equipment manufacturer Alstom is proposing an alternative zero-emission technology: hydrogen fuel cells.

Alstom unveiled its first hydrogen fuel-cell train at the InnoTrans railroad-industry trade show in Berlin last month.

Called the Coradia iLint, it's based on the existing design of one of Alstom's diesel-powered trains.

Alstom Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel-cell train

Alstom Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel-cell train

It will enter service in Germany in December 2017, providing the world's first hydrogen-powered passenger rail service, according to CityLab.

Each train consists of individual self-propelled rail cars, something known in the rail industry as a "multiple-unit" configuration.

Alstom claims enough onboard hydrogden storage capacity for a 497-mile range, and quotes a top speed of 87 mph.

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Cars are also equipped with lithium-ion battery packs to store any power that is not used immediately.

Alstom plans to provide support services to customers that purchase the Coradia iLint, including maintenance and installation of hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

When the train initially enters service in Germany, it will be powered by hydrogen that is a waste product of the local chemical industry.

Alstom Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel-cell train

Alstom Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel-cell train

This hydrogen is a byproduct of the chemical production process, and is typically burned off.

The fuel-cell train's initial deployment will be on a 60-mile line linking Buxtehude—a city just beyond Hamburg's southern suburbs—and the beach town of Cuxhaven.

This line is too far off the main network to warrant electrification, and is currently served by diesel trains.

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Installing overhead wire or third rail, and generating enough electricity to power trains, is expensive, which is why large portions of the rail networks in the U.S. and elsewhere aren't electrified.

The hydrogen fueling stations needed to support fuel-cell trains could prove cheaper, potentially making fuel cells a more economically-attractive option.

In 2014, three German states signed letters of intent expressing interest in fuel-cell trains, meaning the Coradia iLint could show up on other rail lines in the country sometime soon.

[hat tip: Randall Hamlet]


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