The engine slides quietly into the station and Mick the driver and Tara the conductor step out and welcome me aboard. I stow my bike and then join Mick in the driver’s compartment as he sets the train moving again and tells me about its design.
Thanks to a hard fought public campaign and the help of a local philanthropist, they were able to resurrect a 1949 heritage diesel rail car, along with 3km of coastal track linking two suburbs of Byron Bay, and convert it into the world’s first solar-powered train. One of the diesel engines was replaced with electric motors, along with inverters and a Lithium-ion battery bank. All lights were switched to LEDs, and the train equipped with regenerative braking.
We arrive at North Byron station where Mick plugs the train in for a 20min recharge and shows me the fast charger units connected to the 30kW solar array on the train storage shed roof. He also shows me the flexible solar panels that line the roof of the train, generating up to 6.5kW.
The coordinator Caroline joins me for the ride back to Byron Bay, chatting about the project. It showcases what’s possible, and it’s taking cars off the road. It’s also a fun way to travel, especially knowing that it’s running on sunshine. One day they hope to extend the line, as well as build a ‘rail trail’ cycle path alongside it.