Following a visit to Australia Rodney Towers reports on a heritage railway project which claims to have developed the world’s first solar-powered train, a classic DMU with a zero fuel bill!
Byron Bay in New South Wales is the most easterly point in Australia, well known for its wonderful surfing beaches, less well known as the home of the director and producer of the Crocodile Dundee movies, but completely off the map with regard to any kind of railway engineering.
That was until the Byron Bay Railroad Company (BBRC) was formed to reopen a two-mile section of main line track which had not been used since 2004 following an NSW State decision to suspend all rail services between Casino and Murwillumbah.
The BBRC’s original plan was to operate a DMU unit between Byron Bay town and North Beach precinct which includes the Byron Arts Estate, the Sunrise Beach residential community and a modern resort complex.
A suitable DMU unit had been identified. This was a two-coach train originally built at Chullora Workshops in 1949 but withdrawn from service in the mid-1990s.
This diesel unit had been purchased soon after by the Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park & Railway, but fully restored by Lithgow Railway Workshop only in 2015. Since then the train has been operating excursion trips in the Lithgow City area of NSW.
During the approval procedures, Lithgow Railway Workshop was invited to investigate the idea of converting the train to solar power. It concluded that this could be done, but it would delay the opening of the BBRC project for at least a year.
Lithgow Railway Workshop was tasked with developing the basic design for the conversion and various operational aspects of the project.
For the conversion work, it chose to partner with Nickel Energy of Byron Bay for the supply of all solar panels, chargers and associated systems, and specialist electro motive force engineers ELMOFO of Newcastle, NSW to design and supply the new traction motors, inverters, control system and batteries.
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