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March 28, 2018

CNL expertise helps Metrolinx evaluate hydrogen-based rail network

In partnership with Jacobs and Ernst & Young, Canada’s national nuclear laboratory develops study on use of hydrogen trains for Go Transit network

Chalk River, ON, March 28, 2018 –Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), Canada’s premier nuclear science and technology organization, announced today that it has completed a Hydrail Feasibility Study for Metrolinx that examines the viability and economic impacts of adopting hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) trains on the GO rail network. The study, which was carried out in partnership with Jacobs Engineering Group and Ernst & Young, has determined that it is technically and economically feasible to build and operate the GO train network using HFC-powered rail vehicles.

The Minister of Transportation announced the Metrolinx study in 2017 to explore how HFC technology can support the operation of a large scale commuter rail network as an alternative to traditional overhead wires. Recent advances in the use of HFCs to power trains in other jurisdictions make it an appealing clean energy technology for Metrolinx.

“CNL has a long history in the research and development of hydrogen-based technologies, so we were very pleased to work on this study alongside our talented partners at Jacobs and Ernst & Young,” commented Mark Lesinski, CNL President and CEO. “Hydrogen technology is really appealing for rail networks, offering a low-carbon solution for the energy and transportation sectors in Canada, while supporting the country’s international commitments for carbon reduction.”

Metrolinx is currently poised to embark on a major expansion of the GO service, and is considering an investment in hydrogen-powered trains for its regional express rail (RER) expansion plan. Hydrogen fuel is produced through a process called electrolysis, in which electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Because most of Ontario’s electricity is generated by nuclear or hydro power plants, the fuel could be produced without emitting virtually any greenhouse gases.

With its expertise in hydrogen technologies, CNL contributed to the technical assessment, safety review and operational simulation model for the report, which was used to estimate infrastructure and vehicle fleet costs and operating details. Jacobs oversaw the development of the study as the lead on the project, while Ernst & Young conducted financial and uncertainty assessments. Overall, the report considered both the train service pattern and rail vehicle fleet mix to analyze the technical and financial requirements for operation of the system.

Among other key findings, the study confirmed the feasibility of building and operating the GO Transit network using HFC-powered rail vehicles. It also found that the lifetime costs of building and operating the system would be equivalent to that of a conventional overhead electrification system. While the study found that the implementation of a system of this scale and complexity comes with potential benefits beyond the confines of the study, it also identified some challenges compared to conventional electrification.

For example, designing and building a fleet of HFC trains carries a risk of delay due to the complexity of integrating the fuel cell system into the rail vehicle platform. Also, the system would be vulnerable to fluctuations in energy prices.

“The implementation of a hydrail system of this scale and complexity has never been undertaken, so it does come with some risk, but there are a number of opportunities in pioneering the adoption of hydrogen-powered transportation,” commented Kathy McCarthy, CNL’s Vice-President of Research and Development “As outlined in the study, implementing the hydrail system could act as a catalyst for a broader adoption of hydrogen as part of a potential roadmap for a hydrogen economy in Ontario. There are also opportunities to align the hydrail system’s hydrogen production, storage, and distribution infrastructure with the similar infrastructure needed to support HFC-powered buses and cars.”

“Overall, hydrogen has enormous potential for the transportation sectors in Canada,” added McCarthy. “This is why CNL is exploring the benefits of hydrogen in our own research.”

CNL has identified hydrogen technology, including the demonstration of a hydrogen-based bulk transport system by 2020, as one of seven strategic initiatives the company intends to pursue as part of its Long-Term Strategy. As hydrogen technologies have matured, costs have dropped to the point that hydrogen solutions are financially competitive with similar energy conversion technologies. Through a series of projects with industry partners, CNL is working to demonstrate its large-scale clean hydrogen production process and support systems, helping to decarbonize the transport sector and remote communities across Canada.

To learn more about Metrolinx, and to review the Hydrail Feasibility Study Report, please visit For more information on CNL, and to access the company’s Long-Term Strategy to learn more about its work in hydrogen, please visit

About CNL 

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is a world leader in nuclear science and technology offering unique capabilities and solutions across a wide range of industries. Actively involved with industry-driven research and development in nuclear, transportation, clean technology, energy, defence, security and life sciences, we provide solutions to keep these sectors competitive internationally.

With ongoing investments in new facilities and a focused mandate, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is well positioned for the future. A new performance standard reinforced with a strong safety culture underscores every activity.

For more information on the complete range of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories services, please visit or contact [email protected].



Patrick Quinn
Director, Corporate Communications
CNL, 1-866-886-2325

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