Getting railway transport to operate on hydrogen (H2) technology and advanced fuel cells will promote the dream of sustainable mass transport in Europe. The fully funded EU project 'Hydrogen railway applications international lighthouse' (Hyrail) sought to advance such technology by assessing the latest research and development on hydrogen propulsion and fuel cells. The project identified gaps and advances in technology and recommended ways to overcome obstacles. It mapped the needs of travellers and suppliers, investigated environmental issues and proposed ways to take sustainable rail transport forward. Hyrail also studied business-related issues and technology barriers to solve in the rail sector related to using hydrogen in fuel cells. These included hydrogen storage technology, reliability of the fuel generator to use in railway applications and improvements in the electrical storage system, issues that may initially require a hybrid solution. Hyrail proposed a two-phase implementation plan to test the technology and help realise its potential. In 2007 the project hosted a workshop focusing on using hydrogen technology and fuel cells for locomotives. It also published a paper on the subject addressing the needs for alternative propulsion and implementation. Information and results were also disseminated through the project website and various publications, giving an overview on the state of the art in the sector and its needs. Importantly, Hyrail concluded that hydrogen-powered fuel cell hybrid trains can advance railways in the EU significantly. This should urge the sector to forego short-term gains in favour of a long-term strategy of cost effectiveness and sustainability. The project expects that increased commercial use of hydrogen on the road will 'spin off' to the rail industry, lower prices and support technology advancements. The time has come for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and industry players to prepare for migration to more sustainable and environmentally friendly railways.