Two hydrogen trains built by French company Alstom embarked on their maiden journeys on Monday between the north German towns of Buxtehude, Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven.
Tanks on top of the train hold supplies of hydrogen and oxygen which are combined to create electricity. The fuel reserves are large enough to propel the train over 1,000 kilometres, easily enough to cover the 100 kilometre regular services in northwest Germany.
The trains travel up to 140 km/h and are quiet in comparison with diesel locomotives. Most importantly though, they are emissions free.
"This is a revolution for Alstom and for the future of mobility. The world’s first hydrogen fuel cell train is entering passenger service and is ready for serial production,” said Henri Poupart-Lafarge, CEO of Alstom.
“It is an innovation that results from French-German teamwork and exemplifies successful cross-border cooperation,” he added.
Lower Saxony plans to bring a further 14 hydrogen trains into service by the end of 2021 at a cost of €81 million.
Bernd Althusmann, state minister of transport, said that it made particular sense to introduce the trains on local lines where it wasn’t economical to install overhead cables.
“In successfully proving the operability of the fuel cell technology in daily service, we will set the course for rail transport to be largely operated climate-friendly and emission-free in the future,” he claimed.
Experts say that the hydrogen train could in the future make an important contribution to Germany’s Energiewende, the policy of severely limiting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.