China-built solar train in Argentina

China-built solar tourist light rail to operate in the Argentine Andes

Jujuy Province in Argentina inaugurated the only solar train in Latin America in early-December, 2023. China, India and Australia already have solar trains in operation. The Argentine rail service is powered by an extensive set of lithium batteries, has two passenger cars designed to carry between 72 and 388 passengers, and will officially open to national and international tourism by March 2024.

The manufacturer unveiled the first of two articulated battery railcars to operate solar-powered tourist trains through the Quebrada de Humahuaca World Heritage site in northwest Argentina, in June 2023.

The new-energy light rail train was built by China’s CRRC Tangshan Co, a major high-speed train manufacturer based in Tangshan, in North China’s Hebei province. According to the manufacturer this is the first time that China’s new-energy light rail trains are to be used within a foreign country’s transport system. CRRC Tangshan signed the project contract with authorities of Jujuy in May 2022, and began making the train in October that year.

The distinguishing feature of this solar train is the six-axle two-section railcars are powered by a lithium battery pack integrated into the train, which is recharged using a 6 MW solar farm and energy storage facility at one of the stations. Thanks to this technology, the batteries can be fully recharged in just 25 minutes, giving the train a range of 120 km. This allows the train to make up to two trips between stations before requiring a new charge. The train has the capacity to reach a maximum speed of 70 km/h, although as a tourist service it is likely to maintain speeds below 50 km/h in practice. The train’s windows have wide angle sightseeing functionality, perfectly designed for tourists during their journeys, said the Chinese company.

The train is equipped with driver’s cabs at both ends, allowing for bidirectional operation. It can be flexibly configured either by combining multiple units or by running multiple trains in a coupled formation. The passenger capacity can be adjusted flexibly, ranging from 72 to 388.

Designated in 2003 as a UNESCO Area of Outstanding Universal Value, the 155 km Quebrada de Humahuaca is a narrow and arid valley, flanked by the high plateau of the Puna. The 10 000 year old Camino Inca trail runs through the gorge of the Rio Grande de Jujuy, flowing from its source in the High Andes to its confluence with the Rio León.

Backed by the province of Jujuy, the Tren Turístico de La Quebrada project involves the reactivation of passenger services on a section of the metre-gauge Belgrano Railway branch to La Quiaca near the Bolivian border. Completion of the first train was welcomed by the provincial governor, Gerardo Morales, who said it would support Jujuy’s rapidly growing tourism industry.

The ‘solar train’ will operate on a 46 km section of the line through the gorge between Volcán and Tilcara, serving ‘thematic’ stations at Tumbaya, Purmamarca and Maimará. Renovation of the infrastructure was reported to be around 70% complete by early June 2023.