In the coastal town of Byron Bay, Australia, visitors can experience old world charm and new world technology all in one place: a train.
In mid-December, the Byron Bay Railroad Company (BBRC) unveiled the world’s first fully solar-powered train. The 70-year-old train was built shortly after WWII at the Chullora Railway Workshops in Sydney.According to the railroad company, the Chullora Railway Workshops were used to build aircraft bombers during the war, and after it was over, the aluminum aircraft technology was used to produce lightweight trains.
What’s now the world’s first fully solar-powered train was removed from service somewhere between 1991 and 1994.
It wasn’t until 2013 that BBRC started talking about historically restoring the train and putting it back in service. Originally, the company had its sights set on getting the diesel train in service before converting it to solar, but because of technological developments BBRC decided to take on the solar challenge instead.
A small team of engineers spent the last 12 months converting the train to solar, according to Jeremy Holmes, a spokesman for the company.
“It’s possible on this service because it’s only a 3 kilometer (about 2 mile) distance back and forth,” Holmes said. “It’s quite a short trip and it’s flat and it’s straight.”
The train originally had two diesel engines, but one was removed and replaced by a traction battery bank. The onboard battery is charged by the custom curved solar panels on the train’s roof.
Solar panels on the train’s storage shed also make it possible to charge the train from the platform. Holmes said every four or five trips, the train is topped off with power from the roof of the shed.
“The combined panels on the roof of the train and the shed produce more power than what’s required to run the train every day,” Holmes said.
Holmes added that all the surplus energy is sent back to the main grid.
The line the train runs on sat dormant for more than a decade, but the BBRC saw the solar-powered train as an opportunity to provide a sustainable form of public transportation for the coastal town.
“Byron Bay Railroad Company is really focused on this 3-kilometer section, but what we’ve said though, is it may become a catalyst for government or other projects to extend it,” Holmes said.
Read more stories from Alix Hines on Circa.