The train ride from Paris to Amsterdam may not be the most scenic of European railway routes, but it's the only one capable of harnessing the awesome power of the Sun -- for two miles, at least. Yesterday, engineers in Belgium officially switched on Europe's first solar-powered train tunnel, spanning a 2.1-mile stretch of the rail line connecting the City of Lights to Mokum. The installation's 16,000 solar panels will be used to provide 50 percent of the energy needed to power nearby Antwerp Central Station and to provide extra juice for both high-speed and traditional trains. Originally developed to help protect travelers from falling trees in an ancient forest, the project is expected to produce up to 3.3MWh 3,300 megawatts hours per year, while decreasing annual CO2 emissions by about 2,400 tons. Speed past the break for some aerial footage of the artery, along with a brief PR from Enfinity -- the Belgian renewable energy company that helped bring it to life.

Update: According to the AFP, the tunnel will produce 3,300 megawatts hours per year.

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Europe's first "green" train leaves the station thanks to Belgium's Solar Tunnel

Antwerp, 6 June 2011 – 16,000 solar panels installed on the roof of a high-speed rail tunnel in Antwerp, Belgium have been officially entered into service. The solar installation is the result of a collaboration between Belgian rail operator Infrabel, renewable energy developer Enfinity, the municipalities of Brasschaat and Schoten, intermunicipal financing companies FINEA and IKA, and solar construction company Solar Power Systems.

The project, known as the Solar Tunnel, is the first of its kind in Europe as it is the first time railway infrastructure has been used to generate green energy. The solar energy will be used in the Antwerp North-South junction (including Antwerp Central Station) by the trains and station servicing both conventional and high-speed trains.

Belgium's rail network goes green

The installation on the roof of the HSL4 (high-speed line Antwerp – Amsterdam) rail tunnel in Antwerp covers a total surface area of 50,000 m², about the size of 8 football pitches. The solar energy is used to power the railway infrastructure (signalling, lighting, heating of railway stations etc.,) and also the trains using the Belgian rail network. The installation should generate an estimated 3.3 MWh of electricity per year, equivalent to the average annual electricity consumption of nearly 1,000 homes, and decrease CO2 emissions by 2,400 tons per year. Looking ahead, 4,000 trains per year – equivalent to one full day of rail traffic – will be able to run entirely on solar energy.

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Europe's first solar powered train tunnel goes live on Belgian high-speed line (video)