Not far from the town of Wilfleinsdorf, in the Bruck an der Leitha district of eastern Austria, the national railway company Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) has just opened a solar farm equipped with 7,000 cubic meters of photovoltaic panels, which has been specifically designed to feed the country's electric train system. The electricity generated will be used to power trains running on the Ostbahn, the eastern section of the Austrian rail network. With total generating capacity of 1,100 Megawatt-hours per year the farm will be able to produce sufficient electricity for 200 journeys between Vienna and Salzburg, the equivalent of 60,000 kilometers, thus avoiding some 400 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The Austrian rail company has been able to set up this system thanks to the invention of a new type of undulator, which enables solar power to be injected directly into the electric train lines. This means that the electricity can be fed in from the closest power generation point while the train is running, thus avoiding transmission losses. To put the icing on the cake, a number of sensors have also been installed, which will provide precise real-time data on the system's energy performances and the exact amount of electricity generated. The purpose of this pilot project is to demonstrate that solar power is efficient and cheaper for driving trains, with the aim of inspiring other railroad companies all over the world to adopt this environmentally-friendly approach.
By Arnaud Pagès