In a world-first, a train in northern NSW is running totally on solar power following the conversion and refurbishment of a derelict heritage train by the Byron Bay Railroad Company.
With plenty of sunlight for its batteries to soak up, the company set about converting a 1940s’ railmotor with the aid of Southern Shorthaul Railroad’s Lithgow Railway Workshop.
The Workshop custom-designed curved solar panels for the roof of the railmotor along with solar batteries designed to operate all systems – traction power, lighting, control circuits and air compressors. Director Tim Elderton said the technology adapted from electric buses was re-engineered to convert the railmotor.
For prolonged lack of sunshine, there is a 30 kilowatt solar array on the station roof so the locomotive can be plugged in. A regenerative braking system also recovers around 25% of spent energy each time the brakes are used and the train has zero emissions.
Built in 1949, the 600 class railmotor was innovatively constructed with aluminium like that for aircraft fuselage, making it lighter than the light rail of today. One of the two original diesel engines has been removed but a single Cummins 14 L NT855-R2 diesel engine, fitted in the 1970s (that reclassified the railmotor as a 660 set) remains. The engine was in use for 16 years during which time it was upgraded regularly. It is on board for weight and balance, and while it is a back-up it is not required for the train’s operation.
The refurbished railmotor was out of action for 25 years while the 3km of railway line it now runs on had to be repaired by the BBRC, along with a bridge, following disuse of the Murwillumbah to Casino line for more than a decade. The railmotor can tootle along at an easy 115 km/hour, but will only run at low speed on the Byron Beach to North Beach rail line.
This video shows the interior and exterior of the train including the driver’s cab, rail lines, route and road crossings. The train set off on its maiden run just prior to Christmas with 100 passengers on board and now offers a regular timetable.
Image and video: BBRC
Author: Desi Corbett