Solar powered train takes tourists inside a nature reserve with minimal intrusion into the ecosystem. The vehicle is said to be the first of its kind, gathering energy from its own solar panels.
KISMAROS, HUNGARY (AUGUST 22, 2013) (REUTERS) - The first solar powered train which runs from energy collected on its rooftop solar panels has made more than 10,000 kilometres since it was launched a few months ago on a scenic route in the Ipoly Forests near Budapest.
The "Vili" train is a prototype developed by Hungarian engineers and may prove to be a milestone in the history of narrow-gauge railways. This way electric trains, already considered an environment-friendly form of public transportation, could be substituted with zero-local-emission vehicles.
"The whole vehicle is one big invention because it doesn't have any equipment which would locally pollute the environment. There is no internal combustion engine, there is nothing that would pollute this strictly nature-protected area," saidSandor Suranyi, CEO of the company Ganzplan which developed the prototype.
The objective of the innovation was to develop a motorcar that can operate in a strictly controlled nature reserve using as little energy and with as little strain on the environment as possible.
The solution was to build a narrow-gauge railway vehicle running on an asynchronous routing engine which takes power from a large solar collector on its rooftop and can also be charged from an external power supply.
When riding downhill, the "Vili" uses electric recovery brakes, similar to the KERS system used in Formula 1 racing cars, which recuperate part of the energy during breaking and use it to propel the train later on.
The combination of these systems can supply energy required for daily traffic, even during cloudy weather.
The "Vili" can be operated exclusively using onboard solar power, although the batteries can also be charged from external power sources.
"We are using a technology where we collect the solar energy and the electrical engines use this energy. This is the most special thing about it. There are examples around the world where railway vehicles use solar energy but from stations where solar panels are used. The fact that solar panels are installed on a moving vehicle and on top these are traditional type of solar panels, well, this is unique, I think," said spokesperson for the company managing Ipoly Forests Laszlo Lengyel.
Vili has maximum speed of 25 km/hour, which according to its designers is ideal for narrow-gauge lines with curves as tight as 50m radius.
The railcar offers an open-air experience for 32 passengers as they enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Borzsony hills, moving silently, except for the clickety-clack of the tracks. The low-floor vehicle is accessible for the disabled, including wheelchair users, thanks to a removable row of seats.
"Our hope is that with all the positive things that we have experienced in the operation so far, -- of course there are some problems that we are working on - but our hope is that if this train has such a success and really solves a problem that we had faced before about how to lower the very high costs of maintenance then it really has a future for building a similar but larger vehicle."
At present the exact costs and savings are being assessed but if the figures add up well the engineers are hopeful they would be able to build a second, possibly larger vehicle.
"Our hope is that with all the positive results we have experienced in the operation so far - of course there are some problems that we are working on - but our hope is that if this train is successful and really solves the problem of very high maintenance costs, that we have faced before, then it really has a future for building a similar, but larger vehicle," Lengyel said.