Byron Bay solar train offers speed and sustainability

In the field of railway projects powered by solar energy, the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland stand out with various initiatives that are currently projects. However, the pioneer in this field is not found in any of these countries, but in Australia. The Byron Bay Train, a locomotive dating back to the late 1940s that initially relied on fossil fuels, has taken an innovative step by adopting photovoltaic energy as its propulsion source. This solar train marks a significant milestone by turning a relic of the past into a tangible example of sustainability and modernization.

solar train

Story of an old locomotive

The story begins with the peculiar trajectory of locomotive 661 in New South Wales, Australia, retired in 1995 and rescued by the Byron Bay Railroad Company in 2015. This non-profit firm set out to restore it and, together with car 726, the launched again to offer sightseeing tours in Lithgow.

Despite using diesel engines at the time, the company decided to take the locomotive one step further, making it the world's first solar train. The task involved replacing one of the diesel engines with two electric motors, inverters and traction equipment, along with a large bank of lithium-ion batteries. In addition, the roof of the locomotive and the second car was covered with curved solar panels. At the base station, other panels generate an additional 30 kW, used to charge the batteries via the electrical grid.

The project takes advantage of regenerative braking, claiming that the train generates enough energy for its systems and has a 77% surplus, which is injected into the electrical grid. The Byron Bay Train offers tourist services between the North Beach stations and the Byron Beach platform. Tickets, available online, have various fares, with a round trip for 10 Australian dollars (6 euros). As a not-for-profit company, the Byron Bay Railroad Company promises to invest all funds in railway assets, marking its commitment to sustainable development.

How does Australia's solar train work?

This train uses solar energy for its movement through photovoltaic panels and batteries that generate up to 6.6 kW. Its custom curved solar panels power a 77 kW/h battery system, offering space for about fifteen trips.

Likewise, at the base station, other panels generate an additional 30 kW, used to charge the batteries through the electrical grid.

Lithium-ion batteries, charged with solar energy, operate traction, control, air compressors and lighting. In addition, it has an emergency engine that can use diesel if necessary. This efficient and sustainable system ensures environmentally friendly transportation.

It has 92 seats and space for standing passengers, it is usually full on weekends.

The first solar train in Latin America is in Argentina

It leaves from the province of Jujuy, and is the first in Latin America and the second in the world. It is a Chinese-made train that takes a two-hour tourist tour through the Quebrada de Humahuaca and transports 72 passengers.

The work included the reconditioning of 45 km of roads and the construction of new bridges. It should be noted that several specialists who also participated with the Australian train took part in the start-up.

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