Belgian rail operator Infrabel and renewable energy developer Enfinity have joined forces to create a solar powered high speed rail tunnel. The three-kilometre high-speed rail tunnel from Paris to Amsterdam—which was originally built to avoid felling protected trees along the corridor—is now topped with 16,000 solar panels. The installation, which was officially put into service this June, should generate an estimated 3,300 megawatt hours of electricity per year. Energy produced from these panels will be used to power the railway infrastructure (signalling, lighting, heating of railway stations) as well as trains on the Antwerp North-South junction rail network.
The project, known as the Solar Tunnel, is the first of its kind in Europe and, according to Infrabel, a global first in terms of using railway infrastructure to generate renewable energy. The eventual goal is to power 4,000 trains per year—equivalent to one full day of rail traffic—entirely on solar energy.
Also collaborating on this one-of-a-kind project: the Belgian municipalities of Brasschaat and Schoten, intermunicipal financing companies FINEA and IKA, and solar construction company Solar Power Systems.
This is all part of Belgian Railways’ plan to “green” rail travel. Bart Van Renterghem, UK head of Enfinity, told the Guardian, “For train operators, [this project] is the perfect way to cut carbon footprints because you can use spaces that have no other economic value and the projects can be delivered within a year because they don’t attract the protests that wind power does.”