Winding through rice paddies and lazily blowing its whistle along bubbly creeks, a two-car train in rural northern Japan is the latest entrant in the battle against global warming.
Following its runaway success with hybrid cars, Japan is bringing the world hybrid trains. Regular passenger runs are set to begin on Tuesday on a short mountain route, the first time a diesel-electric hybrid train will be put into commercial service.
"It's part of our efforts to be green," Yasuaki Kikuchi, a spokesman for East Japan Railway Co, said on Friday during an exclusive trial run for The Associated Press.
Compared to cars, trains are a relatively small contributor to global warming. In the US, railways contribute just 4 per cent of transportation-related emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.
But the popularity of hybrid cars, such as Toyota Motor Corp's best-selling Prius, is helping to boost interest in hybrid trains. Railway companies around the world, including America's Amtrak and Germany's Deutsche Bahn AG, are working on or investigating the technology.
Cost remains a hurdle. The Japanese train, which boosts fuel efficiency by 20 per cent and reduces emissions by up to 60 per cent, runs nearly $1.7 million twice as much as a standard train, Kikuchi said.
The Kiha E200, as it is known, is equipped with a diesel engine, two electric motors under each of its cars and lithium ion batteries on the roof.