NE Train -- On October 19, East Japan Railway Company (JR East) made a test run of its NE Train (New Energy Train) -- the world's first fuel cell hybrid train -- in Yokohama's Kanazawa ward.

With two 65-kilowatt fuel cells and six hydrogen tanks under the floor and a secondary battery on the roof, the clean train emits only water and runs without receiving juice from power lines. The train can travel at a maximum speed of 100 kph (60 mph) for 50 to 100 km (30 to 60 miles) without a hydrogen refill.

Thirty passengers boarded the train for the test run, which consisted of a series of back-and-forth jaunts along a 300-meter test track. The train smoothly accelerated to a maximum speed of 50 kph (30 mph), providing a ride quality no different from an ordinary train.

A separate fuel cell train is under development by the Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI), but the NE Train differs in that it is a hybrid relying on a secondary battery that stores electricity generated during braking. The secondary battery provides auxiliary power during acceleration or when fuel cell power is insufficient.

JR East hopes to see hybrid commuter trains in widespread use in 10 to 20 years. Lowering the cost and improving the mileage of fuel cells is a serious challenge, but the effort is not without reward. In addition to environmental benefits, eliminating the need for unsightly power lines means lower infrastructure costs and a prettier landscape to look at from the train window.

Testing of the train on public tracks will begin next April.

[Source: Chunichi Shimbun]