Australia's Solar-Powered Train Has Successful Debut

A fully solar-powered train has made its debut in Australia, completing multiple round trips that span a few miles in its first days of operation. The vehicle features a massive battery and regenerative breaking for expanded power, and full operation is expected in January.


May 28 2019, Updated 5:46 p.m. ET

Back in October, the Byron Bay Railroad Company announced that a fully solar-powered train would be launching in Australia by Christmas. The service officially launched on December 16th, and the train now makes short round-trip destinations. While it may not be a full revolution in the transportation industry, it shows that solar generation could be a viable source in its future.

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The new solar-powered passenger vehicle completes a near two-mile trek in New South Wales, Australia, every hour. Up to 100 people are able to sit comfortably in the train and there’s additional standing room for more passengers. It only uses solar power generated from the panels on the roof and pit stops to supply it with additional energy.

At the top of the train sits a 6.5-kilowatt flexible solar array. This provides a uniform look on the rooftop and different angles for the sun to reach these panels. Pit stops will have a capacity of 30 kilowatts that it can funnel to the train. It can also recover a quarter of the energy it spends with the installed regenerative braking system.

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One of the two diesel engines was replaced with a 77 kilowatt-hour battery pack and an electric motor. Even if it’s a cloudy day outside or there’s disruption in generating solar power, it can rely on backup energy to keep moving. On just one charge, the train can make up to 15 round trips along the current venture. The other engine remains in the train for emergency purposes should any issues with renewable power arise.

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Limited journeys will continue through the holiday season with full service opening up in January. The train will not be in operation between December 24th and 26th. Fares for a one-way trip is a rather pricey $3 for adults with a $1 discount for children between the ages of 5-13. Anyone below five years of age rides for free.

Byron Bay has been toying with the idea of creating a solar-powered train for many years, but it only became a reality late last year. Solar and battery technology became cheap enough to implement it into their new train and track system they restored. Originally, the project was to run on diesel power with a debut the following spring.

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Along with being the first-ever train running on solar power, another popular aspect of the train is retaining the heritage of the railcars. These were constructed back in 1949 to provide support for European immigrants during World War II. Since the railcars are very light, one of the diesel engines were kept to keep the train balanced with its new renewable system.

“The community generally thinks a zero-emission solar train is a positive thing,” Jeremy Holmes, the project’s development director, told Broad Sheet back in October. “Many of them see this as a way of getting around, others think of it as a bit of a novelty.”

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