How Byron Bay’s solar-driven train will work

An image from the company's website showing a concept diagram of its proposed solar train.

An image from the company’s website showing a concept diagram of its proposed solar train.

Following community interest regarding the technical aspect of how Byron Bay’s new train service will operate with a solar conversion, development director Jeremy Holmes offered to explain how it would work.

The service is planned to commence in the coming months from near the Elements of Byron resort in Sunrise Beach into Byron’s CBD.

Holmes says that solar power will be collected from the roof of the train and from the roof of the train storage shed to charge sizeable batteries on the train.

‘Energy from these batteries will drive dual electric motors and be sufficient for a number of return trips between charges. Our calculations show that the combined solar panels and regenerative braking will generate the equivalent amount of power, required daily to run the train service.

Regenerative braking

Tim Elderton, managing director of Lithgow State Mine Railway explains, ‘In regards to the amount of solar panels and batteries required, critics fail to take into any consideration the effect of “regenerative braking” (known as regen for short). Any electric vehicle would be most inefficient without regen, as it recaptures up to half of the energy used during acceleration.

‘The electric traction motor wiring circuit is reversed, which turns the electric traction motor into a generator. The generation of electricity retards the train and the electricity generated goes back into the batteries for reuse. Regen has been used on electric trains for more than sixty years, and every modern electric truck and bus has it fitted. Electric solar traction systems are available off the shelf for retrofitting into buses and trucks, and because the railcar is basically a big bus, running on a short, flat, low-speed run, this technology is very well suited.’

A further statement from Byron Bay Railroad Company reads, ‘Our intention was to get the train up and running prior to the solar conversion; however, technology has developed rapidly in this area to the stage that it is technically feasible to implement now.

‘Byron Bay Railroad Company has ordered the necessary components and materials and are awaiting their arrival in the coming months.

‘The solar-charged batteries are designed to operate all systems including traction power, lighting, control circuits and air compressors. We understand the train in India referred to by [resident] Lee Cass has the solar panels only powering the lighting and possibly the air-conditioning.

‘The custom-designed curved solar panels on the roof of the train, combined with the solar array on the storage shed roof, will generate sufficient energy to power the train when combined with the regenerative braking system.

‘The train will retain one of its two diesel engines so that in the event of prolonged inclement weather or other unforeseen issues it can still operate.

‘However, batteries and their charging off the grid supply are being designed to accommodate normal day and night operation including when, of course, the sun isn’t shining.

‘While there are specific licensing and accreditation requirements for conventional electrical infrastructure (sub-stations, feeder systems, overhead wiring etc) the use of electrically driven trains operating independently of fixed overhead wiring is commonplace.’

The statement also says the project has the support of Transport for NSW.

25 responses to “How Byron Bay’s solar-driven train will work”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    Solar development director Jeremy Holmes explains how the sun will power Byron Bay’s new train with the support of Transport NSW.

  2. Matt Hartley says:

    We shall see, we shall see. But, there’s this weird rat odor,

    Can you smell it? It sits just around the usual stench of bullshit

    we’re used to.

  3. David Michie says:

    Questions for Byron Bay Railroad Company:
    1. What is the kWh capacity of the batteries?
    2. What is estimated energy use in kWh per km?
    3. What is the size of the PV system on the shed in kW?
    4. What is the total capacity of the on-roof panels in kW?
    5. Is the shed PV off-grid or is this a carbon offset scheme?
    6. If carbon offset, will BBRC be buying 100% green energy?
    7. What is the total weight of the train including batteries, electric motor, diesel engine and fully laden with passengers?

  4. Gary Ainsworth says:

    This is fantastic. How long before we can go to Bangalow

    • Kenya Jane says:

      It will never go to Bangalow and if this goes ahead you may never see a train there. this is a privately owned resort taking over the public track and running a diesel train for tourists through a fragile wildlife corridor up to 100 times a day for their own gain it is not going to bangalow. North coast rail trail are against this use of the track as they believe the public amenity will be sold off and we will then never have a rail link between our towns. Don’t be fooled people!!!!

      • Gary Ainsworth says:

        If you believe all that then I am afraid it is you who have been fooled Kenya.

        The NRRT are just scaremongering. What they don’t mention is that this rail line is currently protected by the Transport Administration Act of 1988. This Act states that without formal closure of a rail line (currently this railway line is just ‘service suspended’, and was never officially closed. Formal closure of railways in NSW requires an Act of Parliament to do so, too) a railway cannot be dismantled, destroyed or removed in any way.

        What they also fail to mention is once a rail trail, the land on which it stands would have no protection, meaning any rail trail could be destroyed and the land sold to developers whenever the government wants.

        They say the treasury wants to sell this line – Well I wouldn’t be so sure they would want to do that now because they are staring down the barrel of possibly millions of dollars made in leasing agreements such this Byron Bay venture (BBRC had to make a leasing agreement with the NSW Govt to use this line for their operations) And if this venture is a success, I know for a fact that there are a multitude of other entities ready and willing to start up operations right through from Bangalow – Billinudgel.

        If the treasury really wanted to sell this line they would have done it already. They have had 13 years to do that and in light of recent developments they it is ever unlikely that they will now.

        If you ask me I think it is only a matter of time before we can see rail services to Bangalow and beyond…

      • Angie says:

        Kenya Jane you could not be more wrong. The train is not going to be going 100 times a day, the trial timetable will hourly which is about 30 times a day
        This is NOT a private enterprise which will stop us running trains. Far from it. Byron Bay Railroad Company is not for profit, they have a NON-EXCLUSIVE license on the 3km section of rail, and the service is open to the community. There is nothing stopping us from repairing and using more of the track.
        There is no way that Toot would have supported this project if it got in the way of their objective for public transport. The railway and the repairs that BBRC have done is still public property.

  5. Rasa says:

    Diesel back up generator and connected to the Grid.
    Why do we call it a solar train?
    Same old BS.

  6. Joel B1 says:


    Even with regen the reason trains have massive diesel engines is because they require a massive amount of energy.

    And the reason the diesel engines ain’t located in a shed and used to power up train batteries is because batteries are incredibly heavy for what energy they provide.

    No doubt the tax-payer’s will be subsidising more green-dreams.

    • Angie says:

      Actually Joel, taxpayers haven’t had to pay a cent for this! It was paid for by the owners of the Elements resort but set up as a separate not for profit company. it is public infrastructure that we didn’t even have to pay for

      • Angie says:

        I do hope the government sees what a good idea it is though, a world first and great for our tourism, and spends some money on extending it along the c-m rail line

      • Jenny says:

        Yer this is private enterprise using the public track and blowing diesel fumes all over the wildlife it travels past 100 times a day sounds just awesome. Council didn’t even require them to have an environmental impact study total bS all this does is lines the pocket of big business we will now never have a rail trail linking out towns. How a public Line can be given over to private use so it can polite our environment is something we should all be protesting against

        • Gary Ainsworth says:

          They didn’t need and EIS because this railway line has been here for over 100 years and the line was never officially closed so nothing has changed.

          Who ever said there would be no rail trail? A rail trail beside the tracks is entirely possible and BBRC have accommodated a side rail trail in their plans.

          The funny thing is, your car probably spews more emissions than this little solar train will when you are stuck in traffic waiting for 45+ mins on Ewingsdale Rd. In fact, the emissions spewed on Byron roads in a week is probably horrendous compared to what this little train will do in a year…

          If you really cared about the environment Jenny you would be pushing for lower emissions transport such as this train and calling for less cars in the Shire.

      • Petrus says:

        The people of NSW did pay for the line and the corridor. it belongs to the people of NSW and any use of it like this without a rent is effectively a subsidy and so a cost tot he people of NSW,. To the extent that it precludes the economical development of a rail rail that is also an opportunity cost. There is no such as thing a a free lunch nor is there a free railway corridor line.

      • Duncan Millar says:

        “We didn’t have to pay for ?”


        If it sounds too good to be true….

        It probably is.

        How much will it cost to use?
        Will it be priced so that time rich , money poor locals use it?
        Thats doubtful.

        Looks like the jewel in the crown of the Casino to Murwillumbah line has been plucked out by private enterprise. They’ll use it as they see fit.

        Its extremely naive to believe this “non profit” enterprise hasn’t been set up to prioritise benefits to Elements and its patrons over local commuters.

        How can the rights to the line be non exclusive if theres only one line?
        Once they get their hands on the line they wont let go easily.

  7. Shane says:

    I already put this idea forward for the Southern Highlands train line south of Sydney. Minister shut it down. Glad to see this one may get some traction. May also lead to development in other areas if successful.

  8. David Michie says:

    It’s easy to figure out if they’re stretching the truth or not if they answered the questions above:

    What is the capacity of the battery pack?
    What is the anticipated energy usage per kilometre?
    How big is the PV installation on the storage shed,?
    How many 3km trips do you intend to run per day?

  9. Milton says:

    Amazing to read the cynical comments (above) from the Flat Earth society. Seems that even when effort is made to actually explain the technology, there’s still the three monkeys who are covering their ears and eyes saying “No, it can’t be!”. Pity they’re not covering their mouths too. It’s almost comical. No doubt when the train gets running, they’ll come out from under the carpet to find something else to criticize.

  10. Charles MacFarland says:

    Trains use a lot of energy, so I’m surprised that solar will generate enough, even with regenerative breaking. But if the designers have done their calculations correctly, my hat’s off to them! My hat’s off to them anyway even for considering this radical new idea. The next step is solar cars charged with solar panels on the roof of the garage. I’m sure that would work for cars that don’t get driven too far, but I expect it would be expensive.

  11. Raymond Moller says:

    If the Dutch can have a full rail system powered by wind generators, surely Australia can look at a combination of solar and wind generators to power a light rail system!

  12. Bill Guldager says:

    I live in the USA on the west coast and have sent this article out to several rail road fans and employees of working rail roads – We are all waiting to see how it works and any problems that might occur – We all watched Tesla Motors and a lot of people said it wont work but now they are up to 250 miles on a charge – So since it is private money lets give them a chance – At least the tracks and right a ways are being used –

  13. Halley says:

    My goodness, six typical backward Byron attitudes. A private enterprise has set up a short rail system for public use.
    The double standards are ridiculous – you all drive shitty old cars which are far worse for the environment than this.
    Why not focus on the positive – finally a step in the right direction – a small (great) addition to the dismal Byron shore public transport infrastructure.

  14. Mark J T Bowman says:

    If you put a fridge in a sealed room with the fridge door left open, will the room
    A) get colder
    B) get warmer
    C) stay the same

    The answer to this is the same as the rather foolish proposition that regenerative breaking will “charge the batteries en route”

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