UK delivers solar-powered train in major boost for renewable rail travel

Solar-powered trains are set to become a reality with a United Kingdom rail line launching a section of track in Hampshire that is being powered by the sun.

UK’s Network Rail launched the solar-powered line near Aldershot in Hampshire in August on the Wessex line, under a scheme which is powered by an array of 100 solar panels that feeds power directly into the rail network.

The scheme provides enough energy for the signals and lights along the route as well as some energy to feed into the tracks themselves to power the trains.

The UK sets its eyes on going entirely solar

It is hoped the 30kW pilot scheme will pave the way for larger projects and trials which could see entire stretches of the track completely powered by panels – with the entire UK rail network being powered by solar the ultimate goal.

Network Rail has plans to invest billions into solar-power for its rail system in a bid to move away from diesel trains and reduce air pollutions and emissions in the UK.

There are numerous rail stations in the UK that are powered by renewables for their electricity needs, but this trial marks the first time that an actual rail line has been powered by solar panels.

Prior to this, the only solar-powered rail options launched around the world featured curved solar panels on the roof of the train and carriages themselves.

While these options are sustainable, at this point in time they are not capable of travelling great distances and are subject to the weather and available sunlight.


Australia’s roots in solar-powered rail

However, the first 100 per cent solar-powered train was engineered and built right here in Australia. The Byron Bay Railroad Company in northern New South Wales claims to have engineered the world’s first solar train which launched in 2017.

The vintage train – a converted 600 Class Railmotors engine and carriage that was originally constructed in 1949 – features a 77-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and a six-kilowatt solar array and runs along a three-kilometre coastal track as a tourist attraction.

The company was given permission to use a discontinued section of Transport for NSW rail line for the solar train, as long as it maintains the assets at its own cost.

Coal remains the primary source of energy in India with the Asian nation’s emissions rate accelerating faster than any other energy-consuming nation, rising 4.8 per cent in 2018 alone.

Indian Railways released their own train in 2017 to help alleviate this, although the solar panels only power lights, fans and fixtures and not the actual engines of the train.

Despite this, the Indian Railways solar train is expected to cut 40 per cent of the company’s energy bill each year, reducing its reliance on electricity and coal-fired power stations.

Indian Railways hopes to have rail-side solar power farms installed across its network in the coming years and has a plan to be the first entirely green railway network in the world within the next 10 years.