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Sun to power on-board services for Indian Railways

Aug 06, 2013

The world’s biggest railway system is aiming for the stars by using the sun to power its on-board services and thereby reducing its dependence on fossil fuels.

Soon the Indian Railways could be using solar power to cool its air conditioned coaches and power all on-board interior lighting if a recently launched project involving the Perumbur-based Integral Coach Factory and IIT Madras stays on track. When implemented, this solar initiative will significantly cut the Railways’ dependence on fossil fuels.

Trains generally draw power for air conditioning either from diesel-driven power cars that are attached to them or from their speed. "Under an MoU, we have asked IIT Madras to find ways to tap solar power and use it for interior lighting and air conditioning. Preliminary discussions with professors are on to work out different modalities to develop a feasible model to use solar power in running trains," said a senior ICF official.

If the project is successful, the railways may be able to dispense with power cars. "We cannot yet be sure that power cars can be eliminated because the extent of power that can be drawn from solar panels and how much of it can be stored effectively are questions that are yet to be answered,” he added.

Powering an air conditioned coach efficiently is a huge challenge as trains run across different climate zones during a single trip. The air conditioning system has tripped on many trains, including the recently-introduced double-decker service between Chennai and Bangalore. Last year, passengers on a Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram train suffered when the air conditioning failed.

AC compartments often have trouble with the battery system needed to power the self-generator fixed near the wheels of the coaches. ICF has already turned to renewable energy to meet its needs and has set up a few wind mills to generate power in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu.

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