World’s First Solar Train

G’day Nature lovers,

Byron Bay Solar Train
Byron Bay Solar Train

Did you know that I’m no only a nature nerd, but I’m also a bit of a train nerd, not a train spotter, mind, just a train nerd (probably the same distinction between my love of birds and not being a fully fledged bird watcher) . So imagine my excitement when I got to try out the new Byron heritage train, which also happens to be the world’s first solar train.

Train history

Welsh Steam Train (1970's)
Llangollen Steam Train (1970’s)

My Dad used to work on steam trains in Wales, his great passion for trains probably rubbed off on me a bit, that and making us listen to records of great steam trains on Sunday mornings, he no doubt “trained us” to love trains.  I’ve been on some great iconic trains such; the Trans-Siberian, The Ghan, Euro Star and travelled through Egypt, Canada, UK and Australia on trains. When I lived in London I would sometimes see the Flying Scotsman and Orient-Express and travel on trains every day.

So, imagine my dismay when I learned that the Casino to Murwillumbah train line (which went through Byron Bay) closed just 3 years before I moved to Byron Shire. For the past 5 or so years we’ve been battling the government and the Rail Trailers to stop them ripping up the train tracks, and replacing them with a bike path. People kept saying “you’ll never get the trains back”. Well we won’t if you rip up the tracks; we just needed time and someone with money and motivation to make the first step. I’m not against a rail trail, I just don’t want to lose our train tracks to create it.

Solar Train

Byron Bay North Beach Station
Byron Bay North Beach Station

Last weekend, the newly formed Byron Bay Railroad Company, started a new service between Byron Bay and the Arts & Industry Park. They have restored 3 kms of 132km Casino to Murwillumbah line.  They were originally just going to run it as a heritage train, and over time adapt it for solar, but people from Sunrise were complaining about the potential noise from diesel train running on the train line beside their homes. So the Byron Bay Railroad Company took a bit longer and put their thinking caps on and created the world’s first solar train.

There are custom designed curved solar panels on the roof of the train plus solar panels on the storage shed which combine to power the train. The regenerative (“regen”) braking system recovers around 25% of the spent energy each time the brakes are applied. In the case of prolonged lack of sunshine the on-board batteries can be charged from the grid supply using 100% green energy from local community based energy retailer Enova Energy. Like a bank, BBRC’s arrays of solar panels will deposit energy and then withdraw when required. And if all else fails, it still had a diesel motor. [Source: Byron Bay Railroad Company]


Byron Bay Train Ticket
Byron Bay Train Ticket

As a train nerd, I went to the official launch last Saturday, but didn’t have time to get on the train until today. I grabbed some mates and headed to the station on Bayshore Drive and hopped on the train. It was really cool to see people of all ages catching the train, a nice mix of both locals and tourists. It costs $3 each way and runs every hour.

We caught the train into Byron, spent an hour exploring the shops and having a coffee before returning. But I can see how people might use the train if they didn’t want to get stuck in the infamous Byron traffic or pay for parking in Byron. The council are investigating the feasibility of restoring the line with the solar train between Bangalow-Byron-Mullumbimby and Billinudgel.  I’ve no doubt, the numerous festival sites outside of Byron are also looking into the feasibility of the train to their venues.

The future is bright, the future is solar.

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