600 class railmotors

Our two carriage rail set was constructed as the first of ten “600 class” sets at the Chullora Railway Workshops, Sydney in 1949. From around 1942 – 1945 the Chullora Workshops were used to build Beaufort aircraft bombers during the Second World War. Following the war and with the massive influx of European immigrants, transporting people around the state was critical. So the Workshops innovatively used aluminium aircraft technology from their war efforts to produce high performance yet lightweight trains. Featuring aluminium fuselage construction – like the body of an aircraft but designed as a train – bolted onto lightweight steel railway carriage frames. Hence we have to this day a train that is lighter in weight than “light rail”. The value of this particular train is amply demonstrated by the fact that 92 vehicles were built to this basic design from 1949 – 1968.

The very last two car set constructed was 638/738 in 1968 which was specifically built with a more powerful Cummins diesel engine for hauling a parcels trailer on the steeply graded Casino to Murwillumbah line. These railcars have a long history in this area.

Screen-Shot-2015-02-19-at-10.52.30-pm
660 class, as built
660 class, as built

600 class upgrade

The trains were deployed on lines throughout New South Wales, serving both urban areas and the lightly constructed, remote pioneer branch lines. In 1973 our train was modified, along with four other sets at that time. New Cummins NT855-R2 engines were fitted which were more fuel efficient, produced cleaner emissions and were considerably quieter than the GM diesels originally fitted. These trains were reclassified as “660 class” sets and from the 1970s their operation was primarily around Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle.

Our train (661 and 726) was withdrawn from service between 1991 and 1994 and from 1995 sat in yards at Lithgow State Mine Railway until we visited in 2013.

BBRC and Lithgow State Mine Railway agreed upon the lease of the railcar set for Byron Bay, with BBRC financially contributing to its heritage restoration. Further to this contribution, thousands of voluntary hours have been invested by the dedicated and passionate team at Lithgow State Mine Railway to restore the railcars to their heritage state. This project would not have been possible without the enthusiasm, dedication and support of the team in Lithgow.

Since 2015 our train has been operating (predominantly sold out) tourist runs in and around the Lithgow area.

LSMR-team-proud-photo
interiors-work-shot

Of the ten two-carriage sets built in Chullora in 1949, ours is the only set that remains in operation. The Rail Motor Society has three sets at Paterson, one of which has been converted to provide accommodation. Another set at Lithgow is in poor condition awaiting restoration. And there is a non-operational set on exhibition in Armidale. One carriage was burnt to the ground by vandals at the Lithgow State Mine Railway in 2005 and the remaining carriages were scrapped, two of these following their partial destruction for an episode of the ABC series Police Rescue in 1992.

“As a passenger service this train is excellent. It can run at 115 km/hr although it will only be running at slow speeds in Byron. It’s quiet, lightweight and clean. There is a country-wide movement back to train transport as people are realising its benefits. It keeps cars off roads, lowering the death toll, it facilitates human interaction and above all it’s immensely sustainable given the high passenger numbers and low fuel usage. Movements such as repurposing, minimal use and steam punk have all contributed to the train being revalued”.

Tim Elderton, Managing Director Lithgow Railway Workshop

Brogans-Creek-(Neale-gave-us-this-one-for-free)
_DSC0001

Line history

Our train runs along 3km of track which is part of the 132km Casino to Murwillumbah line. This line connected the town of Casino, which is on the Sydney to Brisbane line, with Lismore, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Murwillumbah and dozens of towns and villages in between. The Northern Rivers region represents a highly unique settlement pattern in that it is a “region of villages” with over 300 towns, villages and hamlets. Each has its own unique character and identity, yet is part of a greater regional community.

44207_4435-N4-GCM-Byron-Bay-1976_photo-Bob-Richardson
drawing-of-byron-bay-line-1934

The first section of the Casino to Murwillumbah line opened between Lismore and Murwillumbah in 1894, connecting the Richmond and Tweed Rivers. Nine years later, an extension from Lismore to Casino opened and later south to Grafton. The locomotives, rolling stock and materials were brought to Lismore by steamer via the Richmond and Wilson Rivers and unloaded adjacent to the present Hurfords Mill site. The first sod on the line was turned on 21 March 1891 by the Hon. Bruce Smith, the Minister for Works, amid much celebration, a barbecued bullock and liberal quantities of ale. At the official opening in 1894 a crowd estimated to be 9,000 was in attendance. The whole town was bedecked with flags and bunting and a triumphal arch spanned Woodlark Street in Lismore.

Train-at-Norco-factory-Byron-Bay-early-1900s
Locomotive-No.124-with-what-appears-to-be-an-excursion-train-at-Byron-Bay-circa-1920_photo-courtesy-Glen-Aspinall

The line served the development of the pastoral industries and the establishment of Lismore and Byron Bay as major centres. Whilst from 1905 much of the line between Casino and Sydney became operational, it wasn’t until 1922 that the line was fully connected to Sydney, although it necessitated crossing the Clarence River in a train ferry until the bridge was completed in 1932. There were 31 stations between Casino and Murwillumbah, with other halts where the train could be hailed.

In 1910 a branch line was opened from (Old) Casino to Kyogle and in 1930 a Border Loop line was opened from Kyogle to South Brisbane. With this, and the opening of the Grafton Bridge in 1932, the railway became a major employer and Casino flourished as a railway centre. The Murwillumbah line became the branch line, junctioning at the new Casino station south of the original, while the former Kyogle branch line was absorbed as part of the new main line to South Brisbane.

Simplex__C37_Byron_Bay_Rly_Stn_4-11-61-(1)

The North Coast Mail was the premier train between Murwillumbah and Sydney after the North Coast Line was completed in the 1930s. Additional local trains plied the tracks between Casino and Murwillumbah, connecting with other services such as the Brisbane Express and the Brisbane Limited.

From 1930 there was a service between Booyung, a station on the Casino to Murwillumbah line between Eltham and Bangalow, and Ballina. This service was suspended in 1948 due to landslips and the line was closed in 1953. There was also an extension to Condong for sugar mill traffic.

St-Helena-Byron-Bay-1989
kendall

From 1973 the Gold Coast Motorail provided passenger and car transport between Sydney and Murwillumbah. While no right thinking person would set their watch by it, the Motorail was a much loved train. The local radio stations would tell listeners how late it was running every morning and occasionally it would be on time. Young people from Lismore and Casino would use it to have a day surfing in Byron Bay and the trip from Lismore to Murwillumbah was a relaxing outing where you could saunter into the dining car for a cup of coffee or afternoon tea while watching the magnificent scenery pass by.

In February 1990 the Gold Coast Motorail was replaced by an unnamed CountryLink XPT service.

In September 1997 FreightCorp contracted the operation of freight trains on the line to Northern Rivers Railroad. These services ceased in 2002.

On 15 May 2004 services on the line were suspended.

42211+44226-N3-GCM-Byron-Bay-1986_photo-Bob-Richardson
Byron-Bay-Ritz-Rail-Train-in-2002_Photo-Weston-Langford

We thank the following for their contributions toward this page:

Brian Alexander, Lismore

Tim Elderton, Lithgow State Mine Railway

Rail Motor Society

Bob Richardson, Neale Bayliss and Lithgow State Mine Railway for their images

logo

02 6685 6561

enquiries@byronbaytrain.com.au