People passing by Lithgow’s Eskbank Station on Tuesday, October 31, had a chance to see a very rare sight: A train being lifted onto the bed of a waiting truck.
The train itself is a world first. It is the very first solar powered commuter train. It is on its way to Byron Bay to serve as a commuter train on a 3km tourist circuit from the bay itself to north Byron.
“There was some concern about running a diesel-powered train around Byron,” Lithgow Railway Workshop managing director Tim Elderton said.
“We were asked if we could modify it for solar, so we did the calculations and yes, it could be done. Byron Bay, it’s all flat running up there.”
The design and installation of the solar system was carried out by the Lithgow team.
“When we did it, we didn’t realise it was a world first – that it was the first solar-powered commuter train – not until we were told by the Australian Solar Council.”
The NSW Railway 660 class train, originally built in 1949, and withdrawn from service in the 1990’s, was restored and reconditioned by volunteers from the Lithgow State Mine Railway, the Lithgow Railway Workshop and members of work for the dole programs.
Its original “whisker” paint job, its 1949-era pattern, was also restored. The process has been completed over two years. The last 12 months has been spent modifying the train’s power source.
“There’ve been some good challenges – very interesting challenges – from the design through the fabrication to the installation. But the main challenge has been the transport,” Mr Elderton said.
Byron Bay sits on a disused branch of the railway line so the train had to be transported on two trucks. The size of the cargo made it an interesting loading exercise on Tuesday.
It will start operating in its new home in November.
The train, which is owned by Lithgow State Mine Railway, will serve tourist passengers at Byron Bay for the next 10-20 years.
“Every year the technology improves. With the tech we had 12 months ago, the flat running (at Byron) made it easy,” Mr Elderton said.
“With the technology coming out now, Mach 2 would be able to make it uphill.”
The Lithgow Railway Workshop has also just completed the conversion of 180 coal wagons so they were equipped to cart grain throughout Victoria and NSW.
The transformation of the carts and the solar installation on the train have been documented on film by the Discovery Channel’s Railroad Australia program, with an episode on the solar refurbishment expected to screen early next year.
The next job the team will take on will be arriving at the workshop next week.
The workshop will be refurbishing the Southern Aurora, which has been held in a Canberra museum in recent years. Following the museum’s closure, it was purchased by a tourism company, which is looking to put it to work.
“We will giving it an overhaul – refurbishing interiors, replacing carpets and damaged wall panels,” Mr Elderton said.
“Fixing the bumps, bruises and scrapes that it’s accumulated over the decades.”