Rail travel goes green with “solar tunnel”

Belgium’s rail network is slightly greener this week after a 50,000 square-metre solar array on the roof of a railway tunnel was connected to the grid. The facility is expected to generate 3,300 MWh of electricity per annum, which corresponds to the average annual consumption of nearly 1,000 households.
Rail travel goes green with “solar tunnel”

The Belgian railway infrastructure manager, Infrabel; solar developer, Enfinity; the municipalities of Brasschaat (together with the intermunicipal financing company FINEA) and Schoten (together with the intermunicipal financing company IKA); and Solar Power Systems have announced that the solar photovoltaic installation on the roof of a tunnel on a stretch of the high-speed rail link between Paris and Amsterdam has been commissioned.

Described as “an important and especially innovative solar energy production unit” by the consortium, the installation has 16,000 photovoltaic panels, making it possible for trains to run on solar energy in Belgium for the first time. This is also a European first, since this is the first time railway infrastructure has been made available for energy production, which will be used both for the infrastructure itself and for rail traffic.

The “Solar Tunnel” as it is known is installed on the roof of the HSL4 (high-speed line Antwerp - Amsterdam) railway tunnel in Antwerp and has a total surface area of about the size of 8 football pitches. All this is even more impressive if you consider that this installation not only produces solar energy for the power supply of the railway infrastructure (signalling, lighting, heating of railway stations etc.) but for the trains that run on the Belgian rail network as well.

This project is expected to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 2,400 tonnes a year. “This way, travelling by train will become ever more environmentally friendly,” say its developers. “The Belgian Railways will continue to invest in the use and generation of renewable energy with a view to sustainable, eco-friendly mobility. And today we can indeed confirm that green energy has taken its place in the Belgian railway landscape. “

Approximately 4,000 trains will be able to run entirely on solar energy every year, equivalent to one full day of rail traffic a year.

Two of the consortium’s members, FINEA and IKA, are intermunicipal financing companies. FINEA takes part in this project at the initiative of the municipality of Brasschaat and IKA takes part at the initiative of the municipality of Schoten. FINEA encompasses the city of Antwerp and 5 neighbouring municipalities, while IKA encompasses 48 municipalities from the Antwerp Campine region and the province of Antwerp.

They are active in the energy industry, managing the participating interests of municipalities in network operators Elia and Fluxys. This way they contribute to steering these companies’ policy in the public interest. In addition to their participation in the network operators, they also invest in green electricity projects to support the evolution towards greener electricity production, for which Europe and Flanders have set specific objectives.

Together with four other Flemish financing companies, for example, they participate in Intermixt, which organises consultations between the municipal representatives from the mixed energy industry in order to determine a common strategy for their participation projects.

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