What is claimed to be the world’s first fully solar-powered train is operating on the New South Wales North Coast.
A refurbished 70-year-old ‘red rattler’ is running on a three-kilometre stretch of disused rail line at the popular tourist destination of Byron Bay.
It made its maiden trip yesterday with almost 100 passengers on board.
Electric bus solar system
The $4-million project is the brainchild of multi-millionaire businessman Brian Flannery, who owns a resort in the area.
“Hopefully it attracts people to Byron Bay,” Mr Flannery said.
“I think international tourists will come here to have a look at this world’s first solar train.
“So let’s see, in five years’ time they’ll probably still say I’m mad, but it’s a bit of fun.”
Tim Elderton, from the Lithgow Railway Workshop, was tasked with building curved solar panels and a battery system to power the train.
“Basically it’s electric bus technology that we’ve re-engineered to adapt to a train,” he said.
“Of course the major difference is it’s got solar panels on the roof so it can recharge itself.
“For those cloudy days we’ve also got 30 kilowatts of solar panels in this [station’s] roof here so we can also plug it in.
“On a sunny day like today we can do about four or five trips before we have to plug it in.”
Modern technology and old-world charm
It has been 13 years since a train has run on the disused track between Casino and Murwillumbah.
The New South Wales Government closed the North Coast line in 2004, citing low passenger numbers.
But the Byron Bay Railroad Company’s Jeremy Holmes said the alternative lifestyle haven was an ideal place for a project that combined modern solar technology with the old-world charm of a heritage train.
“I think everyone knows that Byron’s very conscious about anything to do with the environment,” he said.
“It’s really nice to be able to run a train that’s zero emissions and powered by the sun.”
But it might be premature to call this the dawn of an new era in rail travel.
Tram infrastructure a possibility
Longer trips than this one — 10 minutes to cover three kilometres or so — would require regular recharging stations along the route, but Mr Flannery said the technology might be suited to inner-city trams.
“A lot of the tram networks of course have overhead wires and they’re electric but they’re powered off the grid from overhead,” he said.
“But in a case where you want to build a tramline without that infrastructure, I think you could.
“At various stations you could top the train [or tram] up.”