Energy for Belgium's first solar powered train comes from 16,000 photovoltaic panels mounted on top of a 2.1 mile stretch of a rail tunnel running alongside an Antwerp highway on the Paris to Amsterdam line. The power generated is not fed back into the national grid, but runs directly 4,000 trains.
Enfinity, a Belgian renewable energy company, installed the monocrystalline solar panels on 50,000 square meters (164,000 sq ft) of roof on the HSL4 high-speed rail tunnel using a "special ballast tile structure which negates the need for rooftop perforations." They are expected to generate 3.3 GWh yearly, about the annual electric consumption of 1,000 homes in Belgium.
Bart Van Renterghem, head of Enfinity, said "For train operators, it is the perfect way to cut their 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." It is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2,400 tons per year.
Despite the iffy Belgian weather in regards to sunshine, there are still an average 900 sun hours yearly, the panels have no obstructions and thus were easy to install on the tunnel roof. They should last 30 to 40 years but begin to lose efficiency at 20 years, and an improved recycling process is planned for dealing with the spent panels.
The project cost about $20 million, financed by the cities of Brasschaat and Schoten, finance companies FINEA and IKA, and solar construction company Solar Power Systems, Enfinity and the Belgian rail operator Infrabel. Although the cost of solar energy for running the trains is about 30 percent cheaper, the price of train tickets remains the same so far.
At the end of December 2012, a second diesel train with solar panels in India, the Shivalik Express, was launched on the heels of the Himalayan Queen. All lights were replaced with LEDs and the illumination level was increased in the seven coaches. Solar-powered sockets were installed for passengers to recharge their mobiles and cameras. Each of the coach weights were reduced by 435kg (about 959 pounds), reducing diesel use and costs of manpower and maintenance.
In 2012, Network Rail installed 4,400 panels, the largest single collection of solar panels in the United Kingdom, on the roof of its Blackfriars Station, spanning the River Thames, for 1 MW capacity or half of its electrical needs. Italy uses solar panels to power air conditioning in some of its trains, and France has solar plans as well.
In the United States, a children's train, The Solar Express, in Norwalk, CT at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children is solar powered. It takes children on a ten minute ride through Matthews Park, stopping at attractions.
In 2011, University of Arizona students worked on a model for a Solar Bullet train between Tucson and Phoenix. Solar Bullet is a citizens' group campaigning to build the sun-powered bullet train to link the two cities in as little as 33 minutes, at an estimated cost of $27 billion to build phase one.