The issue is particularly pressing in the UK, where Network Rail serves as Britain’s infrastructure owner, operator and developer. With 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges, tunnels, viaducts and thousands of signals, level crossings and stations to maintain, Network Rail is operating on a difficult landscape. Railways are inherently costly to run, and Network Rail is eager to find innovative ways to deliver more for less, thus reducing its debt from government loans for maintaining, operating and enhancing its infrastructure.

As global leaders in engineering and professional services consultancy, WSP’s research into transportation solutions is unparalleled. In the UK, WSP’s team is researching innovative ways for generating revenue streams that can help stimulate investment and relieve pressure on Britain’s overburdened rail system. In a report titled Creating Value in our Rail Network, WSP research suggests that the installation of solar panels alongside railway track could potentially save Network Rail more than £30 million, while reducing carbon usage by 895,000 tons.

Profitable Investments

WSP estimates that the installation of solar panels on half of trackside land could generate 2.44 GW of electricity, or approximately 40% of Network Rail’s current consumption for powering trains. While the scheme would require a hefty investment beyond the capacity of Network Rail, WSP researchers believe that it would be an attractive project for private sector investors, given its potential to generate a first year return on investment of over eight percent on the wings of two guaranteed revenue streams, including:

  • The Feed-in Tariff for renewable electricity;
  • The resale of electricity to Network Rail at reduced rates.

“It’s a win-win situation,” says WSP renewable energy expert, Barny Evans. “Investors will get a healthy return and Network Rail could save millions on their electricity bills, while also reducing their carbon footprint without spending a cent.”

Additionally, as a major land owner in the UK, WSP’s report emphasizes Network Rail’s potential to generate additional revenue streams by maximizing existing space, highlighting the under-utilization of ‘tier two’ stations and the potential to convert them into community hubs of entertainment and commerce.

“Delivering value is becoming crucial, and it’s a challenge that requires creativity,” adds Julie Carrier, WSP’s UK head of Rail solutions. “Trackside solar panels and improving tier two stations is just the beginning, with huge opportunities ahead for making Network Rail’s land work harder for them.”

Read our Whit Paper: On Track for Value

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