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The Solar Express

The Solar Express
July 26, 2023 Hannah McNaul

It has been recently announced that California’s long-awaited high-speed train will be solar powered. The Californian High Speed Rail Authority announced last month that the train will be entirely powered by renewable energy in order to align with environmentally friendly transport initiatives. [1]


The project was approved back in 2008 following endorsement from Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The new transport system intends to connect the United States west coast to Vancouver, Canada, and Las Vegas. 

The estimated value of the project was $33 billion USD with a scheduled opening date in 2020; however, the ambitious project has encountered significant hurdles along the way, with an estimated total bill of $128 billion and counting. 

solar express

Figure 1: Time-lapse Photography of People Inside White and Black Train [2]

Solar Plans

Approximately 44 megawatts of solar energy will be required to operate this colossal train. Theoretically, this would require 552 acres of solar panels to generate the amount of solar energy required. 

California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Director of Planning and Sustainability, Margaret Cederoth, declared they are attempting to secure a $200 million utility-scale system that will be owned and operated by the rail authority. [3].

This system will be crucial in the operation of the train. The majority of solar energy will be required for the propulsion of the trains themselves; however, a large proportion of the energy is needed to help the train operate smoothly in the extreme Californian climate if local utilities fail.

The Future of the Train

To date, 191.5km of the track has been completed, leaving approximately 1,096km left to construct. 

The project has fallen under scrutiny regarding the chosen pathway through California’s Central Valley. The area has historically been underfunded which sparked criticism; however, the CEO of the Rail Authority, Brian Kelly, has emphasised the importance of this particular route to promote economic growth in the area. 

Kelly has also acknowledged the severity of the underfunding but has reassured the public that the majority of the more significant costs such as environmental clearance (costing $1.3 billion USD alone) have been negotiated.

Despite the controversy, Cederoth has announced that the target opening date for the railway’s initial segment is 2030, assuring the public that despite the setbacks, the project is still on its way and ready to revolutionise transportation. 

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[2] Ryan Millier (September 2019) on Last accessed on 27 July 2023. Available at:  



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