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February 8, 2023

Climate Council lauds Byron’s ‘world-leading’ solar train

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Byron’s ‘world-leading’ solar train. Photo supplied

Byron Bay’s ‘world-leading’ solar train is ‘spearheading a new wave of renewable-powered public transport that can help to slam the brakes on climate change,’ according to a new report from the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership.

The report, Waiting for the Green Light: Sustainable Transport Solutions for Local Government, shows that renewable-powered transport can help to reduce Australia’s worsening transport pollution problem, which saw vehicle greenhouse gas emissions rise by 3.4 per cent during 2017.

Climate Council energy analyst Petra Stock said that the Byron Bay solar train is an Australian-first that, if adopted more widely could ‘slash transport emissions in Australian cities and towns’.

‘Australia needs to act quickly to reduce transport pollution, and Byron Bay is leading the way with the first fully solar-powered train,’ she said.

‘Renewable-powered public transport is the future of travel, and it’s no surprise that Byron Shire, one of Australia’s most sustainable communities, is steaming ahead.’

Byron Mayor Simon Richardson said the solar train is part of the area’s ‘low-carbon transport network’, which includes plans for electric vehicle fast-charging stations and ‘an extensive array of cycling and walking tracks’.

‘Byron Shire is well on its way to becoming a zero-emissions community, and we’re committed to driving down local transport pollution and ensuring that our town centre and beaches remain clean, quiet and accessible by supporting sustainable transport options,’ he said.

Ms Stock also highlighted the council’s investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, and called for more councils to prioritise slamming the brakes on Australia’s worsening transport pollution problem.

‘Australia has a heavy dependence on cars, with almost nine out of 10 people commuting to work, school or university by car. That’s causing daily, polluting congestion on the roads, costing the economy more than $16 billion nationwide in lost productivity – and it’s set to get worse as our cities grow,’ she said.

‘Councils can steer their towns and cities away from fossil-fuel driven car culture, and help to make Australia’s urban areas cleaner, more productive places to live and work.’

The solar train, which has 6kW rooftop solar panels and 77kWh of battery storage, was funded by Elements Resort not Byron Shire Council.

The train made its first emissions free 6km round trip journey between Byron Bay station and North Beach in December 2017 and makes between 12 and 15 trips on one full charge.

The Cities Power Partnership is a free national program created by the Climate Council that ‘celebrates and accelerates the pollution reduction and clean energy successes of Australia in towns and cities.


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    • Milton If you hop on a bus to Mullumbimby, or Lismore, or Kyogle, or Coolangatta airport you increase occupancy and your journey will not add any additional emissions to the planet. Lobby for 100% renewable EV buses to any of those and other key destinations – like Ballina for example – and we can all travel sustainably for the price of a bus ticket.

    • It would be a slow trip to Bangalow over those hills, but Mullum is a no-brainer. Had my first ride on the train recently, so great!

  1. Oh if only the claims were true. The solar train is a gymic for the cashed-up patrons of Elements. It would not be viable as an alternative public transport option for more than a few kilometres of straight track. Imagine all the crossings for a start. Real solar trains may have a place in a future public transport mix but would require purpose-built straight tracks probably adjacent to motorways. Bring on the rail trail now!

  2. The Tweed Shire Council is currently considering both on-rail and off-rail tenders for the construction of the rail trail. I hope they take note of the Climate Council’s report, and accept an off-rail tender. With the need to get cars off the road to reduce emissions and traffic congestion, it does not make sense to rip up the train tracks. To construct a cycleway beside the train tracks is a win-win for the community – with both forms of transport providing a healthy, safe, emissions and stress-free alternative to motor vehicles.

    Greens state candidate and TOOT President Bill Fenelon has been campaigning to save our train tracks for years. He is advocating the development of a solar train/cycle public transport network connecting to the Gold Coast. He believes that if it can be done in Byron Bay, it can be done anywhere. The only thing standing in the way is political will.

    • May I run a reality check over your comments Lynette:
      • We will not know if there is will be any tender for an off-formation until those who have been shortlisted form Expressions of Interest put in their tenders.
      • There is no way a rail service along the Tweed part of the Northern Rivers line will have any significant impact on emissions or traffic congestion; indeed there is little congestion on the Tweed Valley Way into Murbah.
      • The Climate Council below notes that its report does not mention the Byron Train. It does however refer in detail to EV buses which can run on 100% renewable power anywhere in the Tweed and do so for hundred of kms, not the short distance of the Elements train. .
      • There is no solar train public transport service let alone network in Byron Bay and the cycle infrastructure is limited and in parts in poor condition.
      • Australian Transport Safety Bureau data show trains are no safer per passenger km than their road equivalent, buses.
      • Putting in place a rail network to link with the Gold Coast would require not just will, but billions of dollars to build a connection and repair and replace the line with QLD gauge. In the Tweed it would serve a few hundred households near the line that do not have and use a car, and do nothing a bus could not do more sustainably.
      The experience in Canberra where the Greens forced the Labor government’s hand to build a light rail shows Bill Fenelon’s rail dreams would shift funding from roads and road based private and public transport. If a tender is forthcoming for trail beside rail it should only be accepted if it is not expensive and is a conforming bid that does not compromise the level off road experience rail trial uses come to enjoy, including through sections like the Burringbar Range whee the line passes through a narrow tunnel.

  3. Never mind that the EV buses now in use in Canberra can run not 90km, but 450km on a single charge of renewable electricity and could provide day long public transport to any part of the Byron Shire and to its busiest commuter routes like Byron Bay – Ballina, and other destinations over 200kms away and back. Never mind that there is no evidence that the solar train has actually displaced car journeys. And as for sustainability in the Byron Shire! It has a very high rate of car ownership, high dependence on private car for its transport, an older than average and so less fuel efficient car fleet, and low usage of existing public transport (particularly between towns along the rail corrdior).

    Wouldn’t it be much nicer Jens Kraus to see Byron Bay connected by 100% renewable powered buses to its hospital, and to SCU, and to Mullumbimby, Bangalow, Brunswick, Ballina, all of the other main centres in the Northern Rivers, and the Gold Coast and Brisbane?

  4. Can the Echo provide a link to that report: The report I found by Petra Stark entitled “WAITING FOR
    THE GREEN LIGHT: Sustainable Transport Solutions for Local Government” had no reference to the Byron Train. It did though example the new solar buses from Adelaide and the ACT’s trailing of EV buses.

    • Hi Peter,

      Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership team here. Thanks for commenting – we just wanted to clarify that while the Waiting for the Green Light report didn’t specifically reference the Byron Solar Train, it’s a great example of the sustainable transport solutions that are highlighted in the report.

      Although the solar train only runs a short route, what it represents as the world’s first solar-powered train is important, and it will hopefully pave the route for other solar powered transport projects in Australia.

      You can read more here: https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/byron-solar-train/

  5. An extension to Cemetery road would be a good first step to get a cross town Byron Bay service. Lower passenger capacity bus’s have always linked to larger capacity trains, so yes railway stations linking to EV bus’s, but bus’s as a part of an integrated public transport network not instead of trains.
    As for Byron becoming a “zero emissions community”, what a joke – Council bulldozing hectares of trees for a ‘bypass’- less carbon capture and more carbon pollution, supporting Parklands DA for moving 57000 people in and out of the Shire “if a few issues Council raised are dealt with” – carbon pollution and less carbon sink in the site’s ‘protected forest blocks” and the adjacent Nature Reserve due to altered flowering and fruiting capacity, electric toilets, and with all Councils electric power from black coal. Council has not committed to zero emissions, it has committed to an accounting system where green energy produced ‘balances’ its committed ongoing carbon pollution (and whos checking that account book).

    • An extension of the service across town would make it a bit more useful as public transport, rather than the tourist trip it is now. But any rail service through the Bay will would create its own problems by generating greater traffic congestion each time it crosses Lawson Street. I understand too the NSW Government will not allow any new level crossings on he Northern Rivers line, so you would have the added environmental and financial cost, and visual impact, of an overhead bridge on the new bypass.

      So called “integrated” transport using trains and buses is a euphemism for longer journey times and having to wait for connections for infrequent buses. Infrequent because the high cost of rail means no money for new bus services, and as is happening in Canberra, cuts to school and commuter bus services. Some changes are needed with any network, but a transport network based only buses means more people can enjoy one seat journeys – form Mullum to Byron hospital for example – without long waits and changes for our school kids, elderly and other users.

  6. Rail services cut emissions hugely even when they’re not solar. Repairing the 130 kms of rail connecting Lismore to Byron and then Murwillumbah would be a great start. A lot of that area is quite flat and could be run on solar energy. With a fast growing population and many tourists this could cut car use quickly. In this area less than 1% of trips are on public transport because there’s no trains. Anyone who cares about climate change should support trains on our tracks.

    • Your contention that trains cut emissions is not substantiated by the evidence. The advice to the 2004 the Legislative Council was that the relevant Department was unable to conclude that the train was more energy efficient. Work by public transport academics like Lenzen of University of Sydney show that rail and bus have similar whole of life energy use. Both are comparable with modern cars with just one extra passenger, and single use of the light cars Australians now prefer can approach or even better the level of efficiency of trains (depending on the latter’s occupancy). But the comparative work on diesel powered public transport has been overtaken by the availability of EV buses that can run further than the length of the corridor and back on one charge of 100% renewable power. Those zero emission buses are not experimental – you can ride them now in Canberra for the price of a bus ticket.

      There is similarly no evidence that the Elements train is having serious any impact on traffic or to suggest a train along the line would take cars of the road. The Arup report found better timetabled buses would reduce more traffic. Commutes and other car trips in our area cover a wide variety of routes, very few of which are from one point along the corridor to another. The busiest traffic corridors are not along the line: Ballina – Lismore; Ballina – Byron Bay; Tweed Coast – Tweed Heads, and Tweed Heads- Murbah, none of which would be served by a rail. Reducing car use and emissions in our area requires incentives like parking restrictions that disadvantage single occupant cars, improved road surfacing to support a shift to lighter newer more fuel efficient vehicles common in rural Europe and Japan, and better cycle infrastructure.

      Anyone who cares about climate change should support more efficient road transport, and leave the corridor for 100% sustainable recreation and commuting.


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