The Byron Bay Railroad Company in Australia is setting the bar for clean commercial travel with the launch of a 100% solar-powered passenger train. The train is a restored heritage model, with vintage carriages that have solar panels affixed to the roofs. For now, the train is expected to travel exclusively between a special solar-charging station and a resort property located in Byron Bay.
The company worked to bring back to life about 3 kilometers of derelict railroad track and a bridge that will connect the solar charging station, which will house a 30kW solar array and battery storage system, with the Elements of Byron Bay Resort.
The train itself is impressive in its design. The solar array fixed to the roof of the train is comprised of flexible panels capable of maintaining 6.5kW, and the passenger carriages can carry up to 100 passengers at a time. The rooftop panels help feed the train’s 77kWh battery, which will provide the necessary power to move to and from the resort. The battery will also be able to partially recharge as it makes its runs. The onboard batteries are the same models that are used in Tesla’s Model S, but the Byron Bay solar train runs far leaner, using only 4kWh to make one trip to the resort and another 4kWh to get back. That means the train should be able to make at least a dozen runs off of a single charge. The train’s braking system is designed to regenerate power, resulting in about 25% of the energy spent being recouped on each trip.
Originally, the train was going to be diesel-powered, but the community spoke up against the idea, so the company began to explore the idea of solar power and an electric drive. The train’s carriages were originally built in 1949 by the Chullora Railway Workshops. The carriages use lightweight aluminum, identical to that used to make aircraft bombers for the Second World
War. The carriages were restored by the Lithgow Railway Workshop.
What makes the train the first “true” solar-powered rail system is that all of the systems, from traction power to air compressors, are powered entirely by solar and battery. The train does include a backup diesel engine in the event that the electric system fails. The Byron Bay Solar Train went into service on December 16.