Friday, 23 January 2015

Byron Bay: cold beer, no trains!

There aren't many railway stations in the world where it's easier to find a beer than a train. Byron Bay however still manages to draw a crowd to the railway station more than a decade after the last train left town. Opened on the 15th May 1894, the last train to Sydney departed Byron Bay Railway Station on the 16th May 2004. Long before the line's closure however, it seems the former railway refreshment rooms had found a second lease of life when a pub was established on the platform. Today, The Rails (photo above taken in 2006), boasts the only activity on the former 131 km Murwillumbah Railway Line, where bands, beers and great food have replaced the humble railway pie.

Byron Bay Railway Station entrance, photo taken 2006.

I've passed through Byron Bay plenty of times when taking the train from Murwillumbah to Sydney, and while the XPT is now considered a piece of history in a town voted as Australia's best beach getaway, it seems a crying shame that nothing has been done to turn the quietly rusting railway line into a tourist venture.

Byron Bay Railway Station as I photographed it back in 1993.

Byron has a lot of railway history, and the decision to link the town by rail when the original North Coast Line was opened between Murwillumbah and Lismore in 1894, was to link the Tweed and Richmond Rivers with the steamship trade at Byron Bay. A co-operative cold storage established by the railway line in 1895 soon became the largest butter factory in the southern hemisphere, and the town once boasted an abattoir, piggery and a whaling station.

Byron Bay Railway Station in December 2014 with the mainline now fenced off in the background.

While the town today may be a haven of alternate living and a nursery of environmentally friendly ideas, between 1954 and 1962 there were 1,146 whales slaughtered off the coast of Byron, and the railways handled this large amount of traffic from the jetty to the station yards and the markets of Sydney with ease. Today, you may not be able to catch a train from Byron Bay Railway Station, but it sure makes an interesting location to stop and have a beer!

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