The Byron Bay Railroad Company's solar-powered train shows the possibility of emission-free public transportation. The train is super efficient, requiring 8.33 kW per kilometer, even with frequent stops. It has 6.5 kW photovoltaic panels on the roof and a lithium-ion battery on board. At peak sunlight hours, the train is 100% self-powered.
The company put the train into service at the end of 2017 and it has been running perfectly ever since. The train's carriages are original from 1949, but have been converted from diesel locomotion to battery electric locomotion, powered mainly by on-board photovoltaic panels.
The train is equipped with a 77 kWh lithium-ion battery that operates at 410 volts. The dual electric motors are permanent magnet AC units from the US-based Parker GVM series, operating at 220 kW and producing several hundred Nm of torque. The batteries are powered by a set of 6.5 kW rooftop solar photovoltaic panels using SunMan eArche flexible panels that conform to the original shape of the wagon roof.
This train travels a simple 3 km route that takes less than 10 minutes, between the North Beach station and the Byron Beach station in Australia and then returns again, usually cycling once an hour. With the help of smooth acceleration, modest cruising speeds and some regenerative braking. The total energy used for the 6 km round trip is only 5 kWh. In full sunshine, the panels can, in principle, collect 6.5 kWh of energy per hour, covering the train's energy requirements for the same period of time.
Are there other solar trains in the world?
The Indian Solar Train
In 2017 India launched the first diesel electric multi-unit train, powered by solar energy from Safdarjung station in Delhi. The train will run from Sarai Rohilla in Delhi to Farukh Nagar in Haryana. It has a total of 16 solar panels, each producing 300 Wp and installed in six carriages. The train has a power backup and can run on battery power for 72 hours.
The Solar Train in the UK
In 2019 in the United Kingdom they created the Riding Sunbeams project, which unlike the other two trains, the solar panels are not installed on the train but around the tracks that this railway line runs on.
The 30kWp solar test unit consists of around 100 solar panels and is connected to an auxiliary transformer on the Wessex route traction system, with the power from the panels configured for power signalling and lights.
If successful, the innovative scheme will demonstrate that solar energy can safely bypass the grid to provide a direct power supply to UK rail traction systems without disrupting train operations, something that has never been done anywhere else in the world.
Coming soon to Latin America
The first solar-powered train in Latin America will soon arrive in the provinces of Jujuy in Argentina and Machu Piccho and will have a capacity of 240 passengers per car. It will have a speed of 30 km/hour and will have solar panels on the roof through which it will absorb the energy needed for its operation, as well as hydraulic diesel. Once completed, it will be able to transport some 700 passengers daily, making three trips there and back, along the 300 km of the route.