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December 4, 2021

Solar train awarded for design innovation 

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Byron Bay’s heritage world-first solar train has been recognised at the 60th Annual Good Design Awards ceremony, held at the Sydney Opera House last night. The highest honour for design innovation in Australia, the Awards attracted a record 536 entries this year. 

The Byron Bay Railroad Company 1942-era train was both a Good Design Award Gold winner in the Product Design category and a Good Design Award winner in the Engineering category, in recognition for outstanding design and innovation.

Judges praised the train service, which is run on a not-for-profit basis with tickets costing just $3. ‘What is truly brilliant about this project is that it uses currently available technology applied to a sector in a clever and innovative way,’ they said. ‘This project has the potential to raise much-needed awareness about sustainable design. A sign of things to come’.

The net carbon-positive train service is entirely funded by Byron Bay Railroad Company and receives no government support whatsoever. 

‘Solar power can be seen and felt,’ said Jeremy Holmes. ‘Riding on a train powered by the sun proves that it is possible.’

‘This is very Byron Bay,’ said Dr Brandon Gien, chief executive of Good Design Australia. ‘The designers retained the overall aesthetics of the old train while pointing the way to a sustainable future.’ The Byron Shire continues to punch above its weight, with Byron’s Flow Hive taking the major award in 2016 for their backyard beekeeping invention. 

Gien attributes these successes to a sunny disposition and tolerance for risk. ‘Designers and architects are optimists,’ he says. ‘We look at design as a way of creating a better future. We’re living in a volatile, topsy-turvy world. If we are going to provide a better future for our planet, it requires imagination. Design is one of the ways we can make it happen.’

The Byron Bay Railroad Company team were presented with their trophies by Jan Utzon, son of Jorn Utzon who designed the Sydney Opera House. While the train itself will not be present, it will be celebrated among other award-winning innovations during Vivid Sydney over 25–27 May at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay.

The train will commence its winter schedule on 1 June. Existing services will be maintained with the exception of Friday and Saturday evening services. The last evening service will be 26 May until evening services resume again after winter.


Along the 3km Byron coastal track


We ride the train

By S Haslam

With family up from interstate, we decided to ride the solar train last weekend. Parking at the Sunrise end, I had that sense of anticipation for the train’s arrival our children have rarely experienced in the public-transport-deprived Byron region.

About 30 people got off the midday train (it was a sunny Mothers Day), mostly asking for directions to Stone & Wood and the Sun Bistro. Once aboard, we opened the windows, and revelled in the old-style super-comfortable seats that can be flipped back and forth depending on what way you want to sit. And, we got actual cardboard tickets that were punched, and a bit of a laugh with the conductor.

With windows open, the train travelled slowly and surprisingly quietly through a part of Byron I’d never seen; apart from an occasional backyard we saw mostly swampy forest, with one particularly beautiful moment when the train crossed the mirror-like expanse of the Belongil. It was a fun ride, so we went straight back.

From the Sunrise station it was a quick stroll to Graze Restaurant at Elements of Byron, a hit for the second year in a row with the whole family aged 8–80, with classy cocktails (the Aviation is my current favourite), a good wine list, colossal meat dishes for the carnivores, vegan menu, lots of gluten-free options and proper kids’ dishes that they can rate out of 10 with their MKR-inspired French accents (luckily they emulate the judges, not the contestants).

With the oldies deciding to stay the night at Elements, we rolled back to Mullumbimby with the kids wondering why the train doesn’t come here any more!


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