61 percent of the rail network in Germany is electrified with overhead lines. On the remaining sections, conventional rail vehicles with diesel engines are currently used almost exclusively.

In order to reduce emissions in rail transport, innovative drive systems with reduced carbon emissions are to be used in addition to the expansion of the overhead line system. To this end, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI – Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur) has now created a guideline under which these low-CO2 rail vehicles can receive funding support.

Funding is provided within the scope of the “Guideline for the Promotion of Alternative Drives in Rail Transport” (“Richtlinie zur Förderung alternativer Antriebe im Schienenverkehr”):

  • The procurement of innovative rail vehicles or the conversion to alternative drive systems that show significant carbon emission reductions for non-electrified routes compared to conventional diesel vehicles
  • The establishment or conversion of charging and refueling infrastructure for the use of innovative rail vehicles in the German railway network, as well as electrolysis facilities for the production of hydrogen for rail transport
  • The preparation of studies on the possible applications of the above-mentioned vehicles and the corresponding charging/refueling infrastructure, with a focus on the German railway network.

The guideline is the basis for corresponding calls for funding applications. A first call for funding is anticipated for spring 2021.


Several development projects for alternative drive systems in railcars have already been funded by the BMVI in recent years as part of the National Innovation Programme Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP) and the Electric Mobility Funding Guideline (Förderrichtlinie Elektromobilität), which includes hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles, battery/overhead line hybrids and diesel/overhead line hybrids. April 2018 marked a world premiere. With the German Federal Railway Authority’s approval, the world’s first passenger train with fuel cell technology, Alstom’s “Coradia iLint”, took to the railway track.