1970’s and 1980’s:
Research into the use of hydrogen and fuel cells in railway applications was largely focused on fuel cell equipment in the 1970s and 1980s at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory. By the mid-1980s hydrogen fuel was being considered for use as fuel (combustion technology) in underground mining machinery. By 1986 the first commitment to develop a hydrogen powered locomotive was announced by Roger Smith of GM.

Modern era research into the use of hydrogen and fuel cells in railway vehicles was published in the 1990s by researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the International Union of Railways. This period of development saw interest from Siemens and other European companies.

Shortly following the turn of the century, hydrogen fuel cell-powered trains and locomotive designs and prototypes began emerging. The first working hydrail device was the Fuel Cell Propulsion Institute’s Mine Locomotive demonstrated in a Canadian mine in 2002. Japan’s Railway Technical Research Institute tested a hydrogen-fueled railway train undercarriage around this same time, and the East Japan Railway Company announced a Fuel Cell Hybrid Railcar design in 2006. The first fuel cell-hybrid switcher locomotive was developed by Vehicle Projects LLC and the Fuel Cell Propulsion Institute in 2008. Also by the end of the decade, Russian engineers had designed a fuel cell power car for use in powering recently electrified track-laying cranes in tunnels. Passenger transport concepts are being advanced in South Korea where hydrogen fuel cell urban transit applications are being developed, starting with a bi-modal tram with plans for light rail and subway integration.