Byron Bay Railway Station around the 1930s. Photo: Richmond Tweed Regional Library, Flickr Commons.

The former New South Wales railways Byron Bay station, 23 December 2011.

Byron Bay Railways

David Matheson

3 December 2019

Byron Bay is a coastal town in northern New South Wales. The town has a population of around 9000 people, while Byron Shire has a population of around 30,000. Cape Byron, located on the edge of the town, is the most easterly point on the Australian mainland.

 

Line opening and extensions

Byron Bay railways commenced when an isolated line was completed between Lismore and Mullumbimby. The line was built to standard (1435 mm) gauge, as was the practice for government railways in New South Wales. Although a passenger train operated over part of the line on 14 January 1894, it was officially opened on 15 May 1894, with locomotive C124 (renumbered 1213 in 1924) hauling the official train from Lismore to Mullumbimby and return, stopping for 20 minutes at Byron Bay on the return journey. Initial services on the line were provided by a daily mixed train from Lismore to Byron Bay and return, and a mail train three times a week from Lismore to Mullumbimby and return. The line was extended from Mullumbimby to Murwillumbah in December 1894; from Lismore to Casino in 1903; and from Casino to Grafton in 1905. Locomotives and rolling stock that operated on the isolated line arrived in Lismore by coastal steamer.

 

The Murwillumbah line was not connected to Sydney by rail until 1932 when the bridge over the Clarence River between Grafton and South Grafton was opened. A train ferry carried trains across the river from 1924 and the remainder of the line from Sydney had been completed by this time. The Clarence River bridge was the final link in the railway between Sydney and South Brisbane via the North Coast line. This line became the major railway between Sydney and Brisbane, and the Murwillumbah line then became branch line from Casino and experienced declining importance. Casino was 805.1 km from Sydney, Lismore was 836.0 km, Byron Bay was 882.7 km and Murwillumbah was 934.9 km.

 

Lismore and Byron Bay were the major stations along the Casino–Murwillumbah line. Byron Bay had a goods siding and turntable upon opening, as well as a railway line extending to the jetty. Further infrastructure was added in later years. The jetty had a double track railway line along its entire length, although when an extension was built, three tracks were laid along the new section. Goods wagons were pulled by horses along the jetty. It was replaced in 1928 by a new jetty, around a mile (1.6 km) from the township, which was connected to Byron Bay yard by a line of about one mile in length that was owned by the North Coast Steam Navigation Company. This line was worked by a small Simplex petrol-mechanical locomotive. Passengers were conveyed between the jetty and Byron Bay station in former New South Wales Tramways electric tram C37, which had its motors removed, and steam tram trailer 74B. This service continued to operate until late 1939. Goods traffic kept running until the 1970s, with the line being operated by the Anderson Meat Packing Company from 1954.

 

Locomotives

From the opening of the line between Lismore and Murwillumbah line in 1894 the locomotives that operated trains services were allocated to Lismore locomotive depot. Lismore depot closed in November 1933 and its locomotive allocation was transferred to the new Casino depot. Numerous locomotive classes have worked on the Casino–Murwillumbah line. The allocation to Lismore depot in 1894 consisted of three A Class (Z19 Class from 1924) engines and one C Class (Z12 Class from 1924) engine. Lismore’s locomotive fleet of these classes increased in the following years, and was supplemented by the B Class (Z25 Class from 1924) from 1909. Other classes of engines allocated to Lismore after 1924 included the Z16 Class, Z22 Class, C30T Class, CC32 Class and D50 Class. Its largest allocation was in late 1930 when 42 engines were assigned to the depot. During the remainder of the steam era most trains on the line were hauled by C30T, C32 and D50 class engines, and during the diesel era most trains were hauled by 44, 442 or 48 Class locomotives.

 

Passenger and goods trains

The major passenger train service on the line after its connection to Sydney was the North Coast Mail. This train ran overnight between Sydney and Murwillumbah. Eventually the North Coast Mail was truncated to Grafton and no longer operated on the Casino–Murwillumbah line. Mixed trains also ran on the Murwillumbah line.

 

The first rail motor to operate in New South Wales entered service in 1919, running three times a week from Lismore to Grafton and return. Rail motor No. 1 was built at Eveleigh in Sydney using the chassis of a five ton truck. From 1924 it operated between Lismore and Murwillumbah, but was replaced in 1925 by rail motor CPH13. Rail motors operated local services on the line at times. These included MPF638 and GTC 738, which were specifically designed to haul parcels trailers on the Casino to Murwillumbah line.

 

The Gold Coast Motorail Express commenced running on 3 March 1973, providing an overnight service between Sydney and Murwillumbah. It was the first train in New South Wales to offer a motorail service, enabling passengers to take their car on the train. Between 1982 and 1985 the North Coast Overnight Express also serviced Murwillumbah. The Gold Coast Motorail Express was renamed the Pacific Coast Motorail on 31 May 1987. It was replaced by an XPT service in February 1990.

 

Goods transported along the Casino–Murwillumbah line included dairy products, meat, timber, sugar cane and bananas. In September 1997 a private rail operator, Northern Rivers Railroad (NRR), commenced running freight services on the line. NRR also operated Ritz Rail, a tourist passenger service from May 1999 until December 2002. Queensland Rail purchased NRR in early 2002 and renamed it Interail, which continued to run freight services on the line until these also ceased in December that year. From December 2002 the only trains that operated on the line were the daily XPT services to Murwillumbah. The last train to run over the complete length of the line was the XPT that departed from Murwillumbah on 16 May 2004. Byron Bay railway station is no longer serviced by trains, but a bar open to the public is housed within the station building.

 

Byron Bay Railroad Company

On 16 December 2017 the Byron Bay Railroad Company began operating trains over three km of railway line in Byron Bay. Byron Bay Railroad Company is a not for profit company that holds a licence from Transport for NSW to use the rail infrastructure but must meet the cost of maintenance. Two new platforms were built along the existing line: North Beach, which is located near Sunrise Beach and Elements of Byron resort; and Byron Beach, which is near the Shirley Street level crossing in Byron Bay township. The train provides a shuttle service between the two platforms. An hourly service operates during the day.

 

Byron Bay Railroad Company’s services are formed by railcars FPH661 and NTC726. These railcars always operated in pairs, and were often referred to as two-car diesels, although 661 and 726 were from different pairs. FPH661 and entered service on 25 January 1949 as FPH601, along with partner CT701. They were the first of the aluminium-bodied railcars that became known as the 600, 620 and 660 Classes. A total of 92 of these railcars were built at Chullora Workshops in Sydney between 1949 and 1968. They provided services in regional areas, non-electrified lines in the Sydney suburban area, and also saw extensive service in the Newcastle region. In May 1973 FPH661 was overhauled and renumbered FPH601. NTC726 is a trailer car that entered service in December 1962, along with partner NPF626. FPH661 and NTC726 were withdrawn from service during the 1990s. They were restored and operated some special services from 2015.

 

FPH661 and NTC726 were converted to solar power at Lithgow in 2017 before being transported to Byron Bay by truck. Solar panels on the train’s roof and a solar array on the roof of the storage shed charge batteries which provide sufficient energy for the train’s operation. If the batteries cannot by charged by solar power then green energy can be obtained from a local energy retailer. One Cummins diesel engine has been retained on the train as further backup. The track that the train runs on is virtually level, meaning that minimal energy is required.

 

References

Byron Bay.com <www.byron-bay.com>.

Byron Bay Railroad Company <www.byronbaytrain.com.au>.

Cooke, D, Railmotors and XPTs, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1984.

Dunn, I, Byways of steam 18: the Grafton to the Tweed railway 1894–1932, Eveleigh Press, Sydney, 2002.

‘End of Ritz Rail casts shadow over Murwillumbah line’, Railway Digest, vol. 41, no. 3, March 2003, p. 7.

Forsyth, JH, Steam locomotive data, Public Transport Commission of New South Wales, Sydney, 1974.

‘Motorail nears the end of the road’, Railway Digest, vol. 28, no. 3, March 1990, p. 89.

‘Northern Rivers launches a Ritzy train’, Railway Digest, vol. 35, no. 10, July 1999, pp. 22–5.

‘Northern Rivers Railroad beats Austrac as first private rail freight operator’, Railway Digest, vol. 35, no. 10, October 1997, p. 8.

‘QR buys Northern Rivers Railroad’, Railway Digest, vol. 40, no. 4, April 2002, p. 9.

‘RTSA and locals fight Murwillumbah closure’, Railway Digest, vol. 42, no. 7, July 2004, p. 7.

‘The motorail express gets off the ground’, Railway Digest, vol. 10, no. 11, March 1973, p. 11.

‘The thirty-first of May’, Railway Digest, vol. 25, no. 7, July 1987, p. 210.

Solar-powered railcars FPH661 and NTC726, Byron Beach station, Byron Bay Railroad, 13 January 2018.

Railcars NTC726 and FPH661, North Beach station, Byron Bay Railroad, 13 January 2018.