Wessex ‘Light’ Railway

Date: 22/09/21

There are many ‘light’ railways around the country, from London’s Docklands to tourist trains. But there is only one railway that actually runs on light.

A stretch of line on Network Rail’s Wessex route, near Aldershot, has been running on solar power, using renewable energy to power signals and lights on the line. It’s part of a proof-of-concept experiment that could change the way our network is powered in the future.

A unique installation

Although there are many stations and other rail facilities that utilise a solar generator, this is the first time a solar array has been directly connected to a railway line management, or traction, system anywhere in the world.

The 30kW system, designed by environmental experts, Riding Sunbeams, is powered by a solar farm of over 100 solar panels, which sits directly on the trackside near Aldershot. It was created in partnership with Imperial College and 10:10 Climate Action, and was funded by the Department of Transport through the Innovate UK scheme.

A grand plan

If it proves to be a success, it is hoped that the project will be expanded to longer routes and larger capacities. “We have ambitions to roll this technology out further across the network,” said Network Rail’s Wessex route director, Stuart Kistruck. “To deliver a greener, better railway for our passengers and the wider public.”

South West Rail has already cut its carbon emissions by 33% and aims to cut this further, to a total of 60%, within the next five years. The solar power project could go a long way towards achieving these impressive goals.

It is thought that similar schemes could be used to power electrified networks across the country. The Riding Sunbeams team estimates that 20% of Liverpool’s Merseyrail network and 15% of all commuter routes into London from Kent and Sussex could be powered by solar power.

A sustainable future

With the UK Government investing heavily in electrification, aiming to eradicate diesel engines from the rail network by 2040, it is important for projects like this to prove the potential of solar power. “With the passing of the net-zero emissions legislation, there’s never been a better time to partner with Riding Sunbeams,” explains Amelia Woodley, head of sustainability at South Western Railway.

Similar projects are also going on across the globe. In India, where rail travel is the country’s biggest energy consumer, it is hoped that the railways will be 100% sustainable in the next decade or so, with solar providing the bulk of the network’s power needs.

The power of solar

At Think Hire, we’re experts on the subject of power of a solar generator and solar powered plant hire. We know what it can deliver for our customers, not only in cutting carbon emissions, but also cutting costs. Our Solartainer solar generator is regularly used across the UK rail network to deliver temporary solar power during repairs and refurbishments, and we can also supply solar generators and solar lights to construction sites and other projects, with easy, off the shelf solutions as well as bespoke systems.

To find out more about how to make a solar generator part of your zero carbon plans, talk to our expert team today.

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