As an aside from the recent rail stories about the Southern Rail dispute, two other rail developments have made the headlines lately. One has been the Dutch Railways’ electric trains, which are now powered by wind power. Another story has been the possibility of solar powered trains.
In a study by Imperial College London, trackside solar panels could be used to power trains. It has been suggested that solar panels placed inside the permanent way would be used to power electrified routes. The Renewable Traction project team, led by Leo Murray at 10:10, aims to start trials with third rail equipment. The reasoning behind this plan is to take some pressure off our National Grid and Britain’s power stations.
For their trial run, the 750V d.c. power rating used by third rail systems isn’t too far removed from that of the solar panels. Among the challenges they face is the possible interference of solar panel wiring with signalling circuits.
On a leading rail enthusiasts’ forum, some have stated that the system wouldn’t be powerful enough for inter-city trains using the 25kV a.c. system. Leo Murray also stated its potential for PPAs (Power Purchasing Agreements). He was enthusiastic over the possible investment opportunities along rural lines.
Some on the same web forum have criticised solar power’s limited potential after dusk, stating a case for wind power. Since the start of January, the Dutch Railways’ electrified routes have been powered by wind turbines. Two thirds of the Netherlands’ railways are electrified with a journey from Rotterdam becoming a carbon neutral one.
Ahead of the game with solar powered trains is India. In June 2015, Indian Railways added solar panels to carriages on the service from Rewari to Sitapur. As with Imperial College London’s study, this too uses d.c. power.
How long will it be before solar power trains reach our soggy little island? It could be quite a while.
Mertech Electrical, 17 January 2017.