The Anonymous Widower

World’s First Solar-Powered Trains Are Coming To England

The title of this post, is the same as that on this article on Lonely Planet.

This is the first paragraph

The first ever solar unit to directly supply a railway line with electricity has been put in place in England, paving the way for the world’s first solar-powered trains

I am not sure yet about this technology., powering large sections of the UK’s railways.

But the technology does have applications, if it is combined with energy storage.

Boosting Power With Third-Rail Electrification

Third-rail electrification has a problem, in that it needs to be fed with power every few miles. Inevitably, as timetables get busier, there are areas, where there is not enough power to supply the trains.

These systems can provide that fill-in power.

Note that 25 KVAC overhead electrification doesn’t have the problem, as the wires themselves distribute the electricity.

This means that the Great Western Main Line electrification is only supplied with power from the electricity grid at three places; the two ends and one in the middle.

Electrification In Visually-Sensitive Places

Look at this picture of Brunel’s magnificent Wharncliffe Viaduct.

It has been recently electrified and some groups object to the electrification of Grade I Listed structures like this.

Most modern electric trains can be dual-voltage and can work on both electrification systems used in the UK; 25 KVAC  overhead and 750 VDC third rail. They can also change between electrification systems at maximum speed

So could we see selective use of solar-powered third-rail electrification in visually-sensitive areas?

Possibly! But battery/electric trains may be a better alternative!

Charging Battery-Electric Trains

There are some branch lines, that will be served by battery-electric trains in the future.

These solar-powered systems could be used to provide the energy to charge the batteries for the return journey.

Powering Remote Stations

Stations are increasingly needing better electricity supplies with more lighting and various ticket and parking machines, and charging for electric cars will become more important.

Solar power systems and batteries could be used.


Solar power will be increasingly used on the railways, with a large number of stations like Blackfriars and the recently-opened White Hart Lane.

But that will happen, irrespective of the result of the Aldershot trial, as many stations are easy places to install solar panels, either on the roof or redundant spaces.

This Google Map shows one of my local stations; Haggerston.

It was rebuilt and reopened in April 2010, so solar panels were probably not thought about for the station.

From my helicopter, it appears that the stations at  Dalston Junction, Hoxton and Shoreditch High Street, which were all built at the same time, don’t have solar rooves either.

Perhaps Transport for London and/or Network Rail should rent their roof areas to companies, who run solar farms?

I’m sure there’s a mutually beneficial deal in there somewhere!

As to powering trains, I’m sure they that Riding Sunbeams has a place on third-rail networks, where power needs boosting.

However, electric trains with batteries might be a better option in other applications.

August 29, 2019 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , ,


  1. Surely the best long term solution would be to begin a program to replace DC 3rd rail with AC overhead electrification with the London to Brighton line being the prime candidate given the Thameslink trains are already dual voltage and Southern trains have a space for a pantograph so conversion to dual voltage could be done.

    With dual voltage trains any tunnels could remain 3rd rail unless suitable for overhead electrification. Of course the complex sections within Greater London could remain 3rd rail until a wider program to withdraw 3rd rail was undertaken.

    As for solar power then modern Stations with large roofs could be ideal with funding generated used to modernise other stations ready for more solar roofs while funding upgrades such as lifts for Step Free Access .

    Of course in this country the question of using solar power comes down to what would be available in mid winter ?

    Solar power shoukd be looked at as a bonus like regenerated power and used to generate electricity for storage and use rather than being dependent on it to run systems directly.

    Comment by Melvyn | August 29, 2019 | Reply

    • I have a degree in Control and Electrical Engineering and believe that it is possible to have a multi-mode train that can switch between overhead, third-rail, battery, diesel and hydrogen power automatically at maximum speed without driver intervention. You can then electrify various sections of line with what is most appropriate.

      Changing third-rail to overhead would be a very disruptive project, so is best avoided.

      Comment by AnonW | August 29, 2019 | Reply

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