World’s first solar-powered railway line opens in UK

Helen Coffey
The unit is made up of 100 solar panels: Getty

The world’s first ever railway line to be directly supplied with solar power has launched today.

The scheme in Aldershot sees signalling and lights being powered by a unit made up of around 100 solar panels, which is also supplying a small amount of energy to the track itself.

It’s hoped this will pave the way for the world’s first fully solar-powered trains, able to completely bypass the national grid and get a direct supply of energy for UK railways’ traction systems from solar “farms”.

Dubbed “Riding Sunbeams”, the pilot project has been launched by climate change charity 10:10, Community Energy South and Network Rail, with all data being analysed by the University of Birmingham to see how it might be possible to plug in much larger solar rigs to power the UK’s trains.

Communities living near railway lines and the passengers themselves will eventually have the chance to invest in the idea: by the end of 2020, the aim is to build and connect the world’s first ever full-scale community and commuter-owned “solar traction farm”.

The project builds on earlier research from 10:10 that found that connecting solar panels directly to rail, tube and tram networks could meet a significant share of their electricity needs.

The study found that this renewable power source could also be cheaper than electricity supplied via the grid today, without the need for public subsidy.

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“Matchmaking the UK’s biggest electricity user, the railways, with the nation’s favourite energy source, solar power, looks like the start of the perfect relationship,” said Leo Murray, director of Riding Sunbeams.

“Helping to get the railways off fossil fuels in this way will cut running costs and benefit local communities at the same time as helping to tackle the climate crisis.”

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Stuart Kistruck, director of route asset management for Network Rail’s Wessex Route, said: “We have ambitions to roll this technology out further across the network should this demonstrator project prove successful so we can deliver a greener, better railway for our passengers and the wider public.”

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