Belgium recorded a global first with the launch of a solar powered rail service this summer. Through the use of 16,000 panels over a tunnel just outside Antwerp Central Station, Together web editor Jeremy Slater reports that enough power is generated to run 4,000 Thalys and other international trains per year
The project between rail infrastructure manager Infrabel, and energy companies Enfinity and Solar Power Systems was finished ahead of schedule, and now supplies power not only for the trains, but signals and lighting systems for the track that runs through northern Antwerp and the commune of Schoten.
“It is a milestone in green innovation as these are the first trains to be powered by solar energy in Europe,” said Infrabel spokeswoman Chloe van Driessche. “The panels provide enough energy to power both the trains and infrastructure.”
Electricity from the 50,000m2 of solar technology goes straight to the national grid and could if needed produce the annual energy needs of one thousand families.
Although Enfinity provided much of the investment for the project and will take a share in the profits from energy generation, Infrabel came up with the idea.
“When the tunnel for the international rail service was completed we realised we had quite a lot of free space and started thinking what this could be used for,” said van Driessche.
Now Infrabel is hoping to look for other potential sites and also for a system that would encourage green car use. “There is a possibility of using the energy to promote a ‘park and ride’ service making train travel even more environmentally friendly,” added van Driessche.