Alstom’s Coradia iLint train is making its way along the tracks connecting Quebec City to Baie-Saint-Paul, Que., as part of an $8-million pilot project this summer.
The train is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, using green hydrogen produced by Harnois Énergies, and emits only water vapour while it runs. It’s been in commercial service in Germany since 2018, but this is its North American debut, and Alstom claims the train is the first of its kind on the continent.
Engineers with the Train de Charlevoix were sent to Germany last winter to learn how to operate it.
“It’s just a very smooth train and to feel it when you’re actually driving, it has these cushions of air and it’s almost like you’re not even touching the tracks,” said Benoit Robitaille, who operates the train.
An engineer from Germany is also aboard at all times to help translate the controls and problem-solve when need be.
“The controls are not as primitive as the diesel trains. You have computers telling you if there’s any problems or things like that,” said Robitaille. “It’s still all in German and my German’s not that great.”
The pilot project will run until Sept. 30, but Train de Charlevoix general manager Nancy Belley is hoping to see the technology used in the long term.
“It’s definitely a step in the direction of what we want to demonstrate in these beautiful Charlevoix landscapes,” she said.
Although the Coradia iLint technically has a top speed of 140 km/h, safety regulations for the area only allow the train to go up to 60 km/h, and that means taking the train between the two cities takes about double the time it would with a car.
But the Train de Charlevoix is geared toward tourists, and Belley says most choose to take it for its views of the St. Lawrence River and mountains.
The hydrogen-powered train seats 120 passengers at a time, and so far this season it’s averaging a 60 per cent occupation rate.
“It’s a very enjoyable train, it’s extremely quiet, very comfortable and no smell of diesel whatsoever,” said Todd Lukaszewski, who travelled from New Hampshire.
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But some tourists were not as impressed.
“The train has been conceived certainly for inner-city commute, not inter-city commute,” said Johanis Scherrer, a tourist from Switzerland. “This is not tourist train comfort. This is commuter train comfort.”
Belley adds the Train de Charlevoix is normally more popular among older people, but the addition of the hydrogen-powered train has attracted a younger demographic.
“They come discover Charlevoix while keeping in mind they’re discovering a region without emitting greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.
Alstom, the company behind the train, is hoping to use the pilot project as proof hydrogen-powered vehicles are the way of the future in North America.
The idea is to eventually use hydrogen-powered trains as an alternative to diesel in areas where installing electrified rails would be a challenge.
The CAQ government has also repeatedly touted green hydrogen as part of its transition to a greener economy.
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