Alstom iLINT hydrogen fuelled multiple-unit seat.

FRANCE: The first commercial passenger trains in France to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells are expected to enter service in 2024 on routes from Auxerre to Avallon and Corbigny in the Yonne département of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.

This follows signing on March 5 of a €51∙9m contract for Alstom to supply three TER trainsets featuring both conventional electric traction and fuel cell technology.

The trainsets are the first to be confirmed as part of a joint order for 14 multiple-units with hydrogen-powered traction destined for the regions of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Grand-Est and Occitanie.

Able to carry up to 220 passengers at up to 160 km/h, the three-car articulated Coradia Polyvalent trains will commence test running in 2023. A statement issued to French media said that the trains would have a range ‘of 400 to 600 km’.

The signing of the contract in the presence of Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djébbari was one of the highlights of an event focusing on hydrogen-powered transport in the region. Vice-President responsible for transport in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Michel Neugnot said the trains would have a higher capacity than the Alstom iLint units already in service in Germany, as well as the ability to use overhead electrification.

Neugnot explained that the hydrogen powered trainsets were intended to operate on the Auxerre – Cravant – Clamecy – Corbigny and Auxerre – Cravant – Avallon routes and also from Auxerre to Laroche-Migennes and over the electrified main line from there to Dijon.

He went on to outline plans for a ‘territorial hydrogen ecosystem’ centred on Auxerre, where the gas will be produced by a subsidiary of power company EDF using electrolysis powered by wind turbines and hydroelectricity from the Morvan area. The plans envisage that hydrogen will also be used to power a fleet of five buses in Auxerre, followed by utility vehicles operated by local authorities or private companies.

The cost of the trains will be partly borne by central government, which is paying costs related to development of the hydrogen technology. Last October Djébbari announced that the four regions planning to launch hydrogen powered trains would each receive €4m to accelerate the development. ‘We have the possibility in France of being a great world leader in hydrogen’, he said, adding that the fuel could power trains, buses and coaches. The government is planning to spend up to €7bn on hydrogen-related projects by 2030.

President and Director-General of national operator SNCF Jean-Pierre Farandou, participating at the event by video link, said that confirmation of the contract was ‘an historic event, being the first time that we have touched on the dream of running hydrogen-powered trains [in France]’.