Australia's Solar Train

A fully restored vintage train at the Byron Bay beach resorts is soaking up the sun's rays too.
24 August, 2017
India rolled out its first solar trains in July, and claims to be the first – but they're getting a little bit of competition for those bragging rights from Australia.
There, a careful restoration of passenger cars dating to 1949 is nearing completion and will serve Byron Bay tourists with all-solar train travel.

Australian authorities say they have never seen anything like the Byron Bay project, a small-scale version of what many communities might hope to achieve in sustainable and lightweight rail transportation. The Byron Bay train cars were built immediately after World War II at the Chullora Railway Workshops in Sydney, so they were made using aircraft-grade aluminium as the plant converted from making planes.
They have a fuselage-based aluminium construction on a lightweight steel carriage frame. "Hence we have to this day a train that is lighter in weight than light rail," the Byron Bay Train team says. "The value of this particular train is amply demonstrated by the fact that 92 vehicles were built to this basic design." The last of those cars was made in 1968, and the rail lines themselves have a rich regional history dating back to the late 19th century. The newly restored cars went out of service in the 1990s.

Thousands of volunteer hours have gone into the restoration of the aluminium cars, which will run on a short 3-kilometer line that connects the town of Byron with Sunrise Beach and the Byron Bay resorts.
"As a passenger service this train is excellent," says Tim Elderton, managing director of the Lithgow Railway Workshop that's been integral to the solar rebuild. The train has enough power to run at 115 kilometers per hour, but it will only run at slow speeds on this line. It's also as quiet as it is lightweight.

"There is a country-wide movement back to train transport as people are realizing its benefits," Elderton adds. "It keeps cars off roads, lowering the death toll, it facilitates human interaction, and above all, it's immensely sustainable given the high passenger numbers and low fuel usage. Movements such as repurposing, minimal use and steam punk have all contributed to the train being revalued."
The privately funded rail project is proud of how sustainable the solar trains are – they are apparently the world's first to derive all of the electricity for their systems from the sun. The curved panels mounted atop the train and at its storage shed deliver all the energy the Byron Bay train needs while charging an on-board battery bank. The converted diesel trains rely on regenerative braking to recover about 25 percent of the energy that's used each time the brakes are applied. The train also can be plugged in at the platform.

Byron Bay Rail can accommodate up to 100 passengers at one time, on a completely flat run with just one curve on the route, so it's designed to be environmentally friendly while also being fun. Part of the appeal is the history of the train on a line that's serving holiday makers at the beach and coastal locals, but they're enjoying the ride along lands serving as wildlife habitats and near fragile ecosystems. The lightweight solar train has its own clean-energy role in protecting the spaces that the rails run through.
Banner image: Byron Bay Blog