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San Bernardino County on Track for Hydrogen-Powered Train

The trains, from Swiss manufacturer Stadler, are slated to go into use in San Bernardino County.

In the push to make mass transit greener, hydrogen fuel has hit a record-breaking milestone. In March, a test of the FLIRT-H2 hydrogen-powered train from Swiss company Stadler traveled 1,742 miles nonstop over 46 hours on a single fuel tank at a test track in Colorado, setting an official Guinness World Record.

The two-car FLIRT-H2 can seat 108 passengers over two cars with a power pack in the middle. The power pack contains tanks of hydrogen and fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity, which is stored in a battery and then used to power the train. The train was built for the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, where it is slated to go into use later this year. Other public transit may be getting a hydrogen-powered overhaul as well: The California Air Resources Board mandated that bus fleets statewide must be converted to produce zero tailpipe emissions by 2040.

The biggest advantage of hydrogen fuel is that it produces no greenhouse gas emissions or pollution, but that comes with a caveat: According to a January report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, 98 percent of hydrogen currently produced is “gray,” meaning it uses natural gas or gasified coal in its production. In other words, it’s not carbon-neutral. Hydrogen is considered “green” only when renewable energy is used to generate electricity.

Robin Gaster, the report’s author, told Government Technology that green hydrogen isn’t yet competitively priced with other energy sources. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Rather, the report says, “we need a pathway through the green transition.”

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Government Technology magazine, a sister publication of Industry Insider — California. Click here to read the full digital edition online.