Germany’s national rail operator will experiment with hydrogen trains

DB decarbonization of regional and commuter rail

On top of the transportation element, Deutsche Bahn is also looking to develop and test hydrogen train infrastructure. To that end, it’s refitting one of its maintenance facilities to serve as a fueling and maintenance station for the train.

The company plans to create hydrogen by electrolysis, using electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. While that process is fully green (depending on the source of the electricity), it’s highly inefficient compared to modern BEV (battery electric vehicle) technology. It’s also costly to transport and store hydrogen.

Still, hydrogen trains have been successfully tested and are gaining traction quickly in parts of Europe. As it stands now, Alstrom is already running commercial hydrogen train passenger service in Austria and has run successful trials in the Netherlands, as well. In addition, Alstom’s Coradia iLint hydrogen trains have successfully completed German trials and have been in regional passenger service in Germany since 2018.

The 2024 trials are a bigger deal, however, as DB is a national carrier and a successful test is key to its carbon-neutral plans. Currently, it operates 1,300 diesel trains in regional service and 40 percent of its 33,000 km rail network is not electrified, the company noted. “We need to bring our fossil fuel consumption down to zero,” said DB board member Sabina Jeschke. “Only then can DB be climate-neutral by 2050. By that point, we won’t have a single diesel-powered train operating in our fleet.”