A push to green India’s vast railway network with solar panels and LEDs also helps passengers and homeless migrants feel safe

Lighting makes station users feel safer at night (Pic: Smeet Chowdhury)

The pounding of trains running through the night does not disturb the fatigued sleep of the homeless migrants huddled at the foot of the sky bridge at Visakhapatnam railway platform.

“It is the dark corners that frighten us, near the water taps and where we take a child to relieve himself,” says Usha Saimala, who has arrived with other families from Kannayapally village in neighbouring Telengana State to work the brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh.

In the shadows drug users, thieves and even human traffickers may lurk, Saimala explains. For her – and the hordes of passengers passing through – lights bring a sense of security.

Migrants (Pic: Manipadma Jena)

Solar lighting is on its way to this station, one of the busiest on India’s east coast with 33 million passengers passing through in the last 3 years. From August, a 1 megawatt (MW) solar roof-top will power LEDs for the platforms, two locomotive sheds, a hospital, offices and small shops.

This pioneering project is expected to save the station $31,000 a year compared to grid electricity, while preventing greenhouse gas emissions.

It is part of a government push to green the country’s vast railway network, installing 1,000MW of solar and getting at least 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

“We want Indian Railways to become a green engine of growth,” said federal railway minister Suresh Prabhu at an event in Delhi last month. “Indian Railways being a significant consumer of energy, identifying a cost-effective energy system with least environmental impact is essential.”

Decarbonising the railways supports India’s pledge under the Paris climate deal…