Alstom announced on February 2, 2023 that one of its Coradia iLint hydrogen-powered multiple unit trains will be operating in Canada this summer, carrying passengers on the Train de Charlevoix route in Quebec.
The Train de Charlevoix is a seasonal service, running between Quebec City, Baie-Saint-Paul, and La Malbaie, operating between early June and late October each year. The hydrogen-powered train will operate Wednesdays through Saturdays from June 17 until September 30, 2023.
Tickets for their 2023 season are now available at https://traindecharlevoix.com/
Alstom and Groupe Le Massif, which owns the railway, are launching this project in partnership with the Government of Quebec, Harnois Énergies, and Canadian hydrogen firm HTEC. Harnois Énergies will produce green hydrogen for the train at its Quebec City site.
Alstom are linking this project to there recently opened research and development centre for green rail mobility solutions, located at St. Bruno, Quebec, which became Alstom’s North American headquarters following the acquisition of Bombardier Transportation in 2021.
Alstom’s Coradia iLint trains were first launched in 2016, and are now in regular passenger service in Germany. In testing, the units have run 1,175 km between refueling stops and they take only minutes to refill, so operating two or three round trips each day to La Malbaie will be well within their capabilities. Hydrogen is supplied and stored onboard at 350psi and run through fuel cells to produce electricity, emitting only water as exhaust. The trains also carry batteries to smooth out the power cycle and store energy recovered while braking.
Operation with passengers on board in Quebec is intended to allow Alstom and its partners to assess the next steps in the development of hydrogen propulsion for the North American market. The reluctance of our freight railways to countenance overhead electrification, even on main lines, combined with a plethora of regional routes with less than hourly service, could offer many opportunities for hydrogen-powered trains.
This project is a scoop for Quebec, Canada, and Alstom, placing the first hydrogen fuel-cell passenger train in operation in North America, ahead of Arrow in California, which had been expected to be the first such project.
Switzerland’s Stadler is supplying one of its Flirt H2 multiple unit trains for use on the Arrow commuter line between San Bernardino and Redlands, California, operating side by side with diesel-powered Flirt units on the same route. While Stadler unveiled the train for that project at InnoTrans in 2022, and new line launched in October 2022 with diesel trains, they plan to undertake extensive testing of the hydrogen unit in Europe this year before deploying the unit to California, expecting to begin passenger service in 2024. If successfully, the Arrow line may still be the first to operate a year-round service.
Transport Action has long advocated for bidirectional self-powered multiple-unit trains like the Stadler Flirt or Alstom Coradia Lint families to be considered for local and regional services across Canada that require a smaller train to operate efficiently, offering a modern equivalent to the once widely-used Budd RDC Railiner/Dayliner trains. Ottawa’s original O-Train project demonstrated the viability of this approach.
The Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium, of which Transport Action is a member, also hopes to conduct an impartial side-by-side evaluation of a hydrogen train and its diesel or all-battery equivalents, following on from their successful zero-emission bus pilot projects.
Photograph: Alstom Coradia iLint multiple unit on test in Lower Saxony, Germany in 2019, by Jacek Rużyczka