Can railways be solar powered?

Michael Fitzalan Switch
Michael Fitzalan Switch

I thought I would share this article by Priya Aggarwal as a preliminary to my idea to put solar panels on frames above the railway that runs from Marylebone to Oxford; which is currently running on dirty diesel.

Solar panels would be put above the tracks supported by steel frames for the required distance to power locomotives and their carriages.

Norwegian Sand Batteries would allow the service to run overnight or in the evenings.

This the email sent to Chiltern Railways on 5th January 2023 – Dear Stephanie

Thank you for helping me today.

I have a consortium of investors that will pay for solar panels to be inserted in a frame above the train to power services so you do not need your battery or diesel trains and I have solar panel experts that will create the project including  ‘sand batteries’:

Read the full article

These will allow the train to be run during the night. Please could you direct me to who would I speak to in order to facilitate this project.

Chiltern’s Oxford to Marylebone service could be the first solar energy railway in the world.

Yours sincerely

Finnian Fitzpatrick

Let’s see what happens

Trains are the most efficient mode of transportation we have. On them,  9% of global passengers and 7% of global cargo, they make up just 3% of global transportation energy use.

Around the world, about 75% of trains are electrified with the rest running on diesel. This makes them the right candidate to run on complete clean energy without significant investments in overhauling the infrastructure. But what would it take to do that?

In 2017, Australia ran the world’s first solar train, fitted with a 6.5kW system on top of its two coaches. The battery capacity; at 77 kWh, was similar to a high-end Tesla Model 3 and could allow the train 6–7 round trips on its 3 km track. There is also a 30kW solar system at the station to charge the battery. However, the train had quite some metrics to reach. An investment of ~6 million AUD, meant the train needs 350 round trips a day to remain viable. But given the limited trips completed between the daylight hours, this is a stretch.

India also had rooftop solar trains, but only to power lights and the likes within the train. 

Therefore, it is still a distant reality to have 100% of rooftop solar-powered trains for the masses. A solar farm sends power directly to a railway line.

In 2019, the United Kingdom, the world’s first railway line powered by a 30kW solar farm was developed. Built close to the station, the farm would feed directly into the station. With its capacity, solar will directly power signalling and lights.However, given the trains in UK use 4,050 million kWh of electricity each year. It looks unlikely that solar farms will 100% supply the power needed to run the full system in near future.

On the other hand, some countries are making much bigger attempts. The Indian government has committed to making railways carbon neutral by 2030 through 20 GW worth of solar farms. Land close to railways has been identified, and this solar would feed directly into the railway substations and the grid.

Argentina will also soon kickstart a similar effort to power a 300km train line by using a mix of rooftop panels and solar farms.

Another method of achieving this state would be through electric trains powered by batteries charged through solar, either onsite or offsite. But if we can infuse enough solar into the grid that then powers trains; I don’t see why we should go for this option as batteries have issues of their own.

Other than trains and equipment, solar is successfully powering railway stations, like Antwerp Central Station and India Guwahati station, but this is akin to powering any commercial facility. When we talk of railways, we specifically talk about trains. In a nutshell, solar powered railways can become a reality. But a solar system more than being useful to power trains directly will be more useful in the grid mix when it comes to sustainability.


A well respected author

Michael Fitzalan was born in Clapham, South London where his mother had established a doctor’s surgery in a house which she filled with children.

With three sisters, two brothers and a library full of books, a love of literature was imbued in him from an early age.

Michael Fitzalan comes from Irish parents were doctors and they settled on the West Side of Clapham Common and had six children in quick succession.

A story by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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