I am a freelance writer, fortunate enough to live near Byron Bay, one of Australia's most beautiful regions. My writing - for newspapers, magazines, online and for business - lives at vivienne pearson.com
Published June 15th 2018
A Byron Bay train - solar powered (of course)
Byron Bay used to have a proper train running through it but the line closed in 2004. Amid all the debate about whether the line should reopen or whether to turn it into a bicycle rail trail, a 3 kilometre section has quietly opened with surprisingly little fanfare.
Solar train at Byron Bay! Taken by Vivienne Pearson
The 3km extends between the beach-end of Byron Bay town and runs north just in from the coast to 'North Beach' station, which is on the edge of the suburb, Sunrise, and the Byron Arts&Industry Estate. It is also right next to Elements resort, which was the driving force for the train.
Byron Beach Train Station sign. Taken by Vivienne Pearson
Anyone can ride the train. At just $3 a ride ($2 for kids and free for under 5s), it's not hard to make the decision to jump on for a ride! The trip is only 10 minutes but it's worth getting there a bit early to enjoy some of the fun as the train is a fascinating blend of old and new.
The new is the fact that the train is solar powered. You can just see the curved solar panels on the roof if you are tall enough. This adds a surprising element that the train starts off silently!
The old is that the train is a restored (from derelict) heritage train, with the interior still true to its era. My favourite bit is the clever seats that allow you to swap the direction you face just by moving the seat backs.
Old fashioned train carriages. Taken by Vivienne Pearson
There is also a good old-fashioned conductor at the platform and then on board. They use bags similar to those used on Melbourne trams (at least) before automatic ticketing was introduced - a real blast from the past for me. The tickets are also gorgeous - I found them so delightful that I asked whether I needed to return them at the end for reuse!
The journey moves through some beautiful forested scenery as well as past some housing and a caravan park. The line is in from the coast just enough that you can't see the beach but you know it is there the whole way along.
The trip is fun for anyone. You can either:
1. Travel by train in both directions, either returning straight away or taking time to explore at the other end.
2. Use it as actual transport. If you are staying at Elements, it is an ideal way to get into town - avoid traffic jams (which are now part of life in Byron) and paid parking. Or, great for if you are staying in Byron and wish to eat at Elements, or visit the Arts&Industry Estate (maybe for a shopping wander or for a class at Circus Arts or to go to the Byron Writers Festival).
North Beach train station - near Elements and Arts&Industry Estate. Taken by Vivienne Pearson
3. Use it as a way to set you up for a one-way beach walk back to your starting point. At both ends, the stations are a 3 minute walk to the beach and there is then 2.5-3km of Belongil Beach to leisurely walk along. The walk does involve crossing the Belongil Creek, which will vary in depth from almost nothing to knee deep depending on the tide.
Belongil Beach Walk showing Belongil Creek. Taken by Vivienne Pearson
Whichever way you wish to use the train, enjoy it for its novelty value, the fun and romance of train travel, its environmental ambitions, or for its practical use in a town that is only getting busier.
In Byron Bay, the train departs from the Byron Beach Station - near the First Sun Caravan Park at the Shirley Street level crossing NOT the Byron Bay Railway Station (which is behind the Railway Hotel and still exists and shows on maps though is not in use)
* Do check the website for the current timetable - the service is new and runs on volunteer labour so is subject to change in different seasons and over time.