Central Station is the hub of railway services in New South Wales. The station consists of two parts - one which caters for Inter city trains to regional New South Wales centres, along with Interstate trains (to Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth via Adelaide). The second part serves as the hub for Sydney's suburban railway system. Nearly all lines on the suburban railway network converge here.
In the early 1990s, a new coach terminal was incorporated into the basement level of Central Station facing both Eddy Avenue and Pitt Street. The coach terminal is still in use today. Central Station is also the terminus for Sydney's light rail line to suburban Dulwich Hill via Darling Harbour and Rozelle.
The first terminal station in Sydney was built in 1855 on a site known as the Cleveland Paddocks, located between Devonshire and Cleveland Streets, midway between today's Central and Redfern stations. It also incorporated a goods train line that passed under the George Street road overbridge at Railway Square in what was known as the dive . This line went to the former railway yards at Darling Harbour. The first station was a simple affair consisting of a single 30.5 metre long wooden platform and a corrugated iron shed. The platform would later be Central Station extended to 61 metres. Additional iron buildings were also added to house offices and public rooms. An engine shed, carriage shed and goods shed (erected in 1856) were located next to the station building. The ensuing years saw more yards and buildings built to accommodate the additional trains for a rapidly expanding railway network. The station became known as Redfern soon after opening simply because it was at that end of town.
Goods yard of the second station at Redfern. Photo: State Records
A second terminal station was designed by the Railways Chief Engineer John Whitton (who designed the Zig Zag railway in the Blue Mountains). It opened in 1874 on the same site as the first station and continued to be known as Redfern. While the brick and stone building was impressive when first built, by the 1880s its 13 platforms had spread to the forecourt area (4). In 1899 there were 25 million passenger visits to the terminal station and the site was simply too restictive and congested for any more development.
Since 1884, Sydney's rail network had been under the stress of increasing traffic and a limited reach. Sydney Station was constantly receiving upgrades and additional platforms, culminating in a messy setup of 13 train platforms and numerous tram sheds. An 1897 royal commission proposed the resumption of Hyde Park for use as the central terminal and, to counter the public outrage over the loss of parkland, the Devonshire Street Cemetery would be converted into a park. For a time this plan seemed to be a goer until the unexpected death of Railway Commissioner E M G Eddy (of Eddy Avenue fame) that same year. This forced a literal return to the drawing board, where it was decided that it was probably easier to resume just one giant park instead of two.
The planned Hyde Park Terminus
When Melbourne started work on their Central equivalent, Flinders Street Station, plans to build the Sydney s Central Station were hurredly produced and approved. Flinders predecessor Melbourne Terminus had been Australia's first city railway station back in 1854, pipping Sydney by a year, and Sydney was not about to let Melbourne beat pip them to the post again. W.L. Vernon, the New South Wales Government Architect in charge of design, and Henry Deane, Engineer in Chief of the New South Wales Government Railways, signed the completed plan for the new 15-platform steel framed and concrete station on 2 November 1901. Described as the 'grandest railway station in Australia', it is listed on the Register of the National Estate.
Property resumption needed to occur prior to the construction of the new station. This included the original depot for the first steam tramway, the Convent of the Good Samaritan, Benevolent Asylum, Police Barracks and other buildings. All were demolished. Also slated for resumption was the Sandhills Cemetery, also known as the Old Devonshire Street Burial Ground. The cemetery was used from 1819 to 1868 to bury Sydney's dead. In 1901 to facilitate the building of Central Railway Station, the whole of the Sandhills Cemetery was resumed by the State Government. Relatives of those buried in there were invited to apply for their exhumation and relocation at Government expense. Some were moved to cemeteries at Rookwood, Camperdown, South Head, Waverley and Gore Hill. Unfortunately, these relatives were given a strict time limit of two months to act, and by the end of that time, only 8,460 bodies had been claimed (not among these was Eddy, who had been buried at Waverley following his death). This left 30,000 remains unclaimed, most of which were transferred to other cemeteries anyway, such as Bunnerong Cemetery near Botany. A spur line was built to Botany for the sole purpose of transporting exhumed coffins to the Botany cemetery.
The Devonshire Cemetery site had been completely cleared by 1902, and stage one of Central's construction, which allowed the station to be operational, was completed in 1906. Sheltering under an umbrella from a heavy downpour, Minister O'Sullivan laid the foundation stone on Central Station 30 April 1902; wielding the trowel around the 4.5-tonne block of Bowral trachyte, he promised the station would be one of the world's most handsome. Premier Sir John See took his share of the limelight in laying a second foundation stone at the base of the clock tower on 26 September 1903. Pyrmont quarries supplied the sandstone for piers, ramps and walls; to face more than 2.5 kilometres of platforms, 3,800,000 bricks would be needed. Hand carved cedar surmounted the main doorways while stained glass windows ornately displayed the New South Wales Government Railway s insignia. A large arched roof covered a main grand concourse housing heavy wooden booking offices and refreshment counters.
The light rail concourse of Central Station under construction. Photo: State Records
A plan to continue similar roofing over all the tracks was discarded in favour of less-costly individual platform awnings. On Saturday 4 August 1906 at 11.00am, Premier Carruthers turned a gold key in the booking office door, then unveiled a tablet on the colonnade wall. The official first train to leave the new station left from platform 12 and made a special run to Parramatta. The last train departed platform 5 of the original 1874 station, located between today's central and Redfern stations, at midnight, 11 hours prior to the new station being brought into use. During the remainder of that night, the passenger concourse was demolished and the line extended through the old station into the new station. The Western Mail train that arrived in Sydney at 5:50 am on 5 August 1906 was the first train to arrive at the new station. Devonshire Street, which separated the two stations, became a pedestrian underpass to allow people to cross the railway line and is now known by many as the Devonshire Street Tunnel.
The new station featured 13 platforms, which are the platforms used by inter city and interstate trains today. The main sandstone building was only constructed to the ground floor or platform level. This left the domed roof in full view from the north, giving the station a most ungainly appearance. An additional two floors and the clock tower, part of the original plans, would be added later when time and money permitted. In 1914, four additional platforms were added at the same level as the previously opened platforms 1 to 15. These platforms would later be removed to make way for the new through platforms to the City, which would be at a higher level.
Sydney Terminal, or the Western Steam Terminal as it was later referred to, was dominated by a large vaulted roof over the concourse and elaborate masonry, primarily sandstone, the most common rock in the Sydney region. This section is popularly known as the country platforms, even though only three platforms are commonly used for long-distance trains: most of the platforms are used for NSW TrainLink intercity services. To the west of Platform 1 there was a siding leading to two dock platforms for use of mail trains, now cut back to serve a car loading ramp for the Indian Pacific. The space where the mail sidings were is now a youth hostel named Sydney Railway Square YHA. The hostel rooms are modelled on old train carriages.
When the station was constructed, the Pitt and Castlereagh streets tramway loop was relocated so the trams could terminate in a colonnade across the front of the main concourse at platform level, providing a convenient means of transfer between the two transport modes. The trams approached the terminus by way of a ramp from the corner of Pitt and Hay Streets. The tramline to the colonnade ceased on 29 September 1957, however, in 1997 trams made a welcome comeback with the opening of the light rail line servicing Wentworth Park and later Lilyfield. Railway Square was also a large tram interchange point being only a short walk from Central Station or through the Devonshire Street Tunnel. Today, Railway Square interchange is for buses.
The station enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence, but that peace was broken in 1916 when a riot, dubbed the Battle of Central Station, took place. Soldiers rebelling against camp conditions had raided hotels in Liverpool and travelled to the city by commandeered trains. Upon arrival at Central Station, the rioters set about destroying the station facilities, and fire was exchanged between rampaging rioters and military police. One rioter was shot dead and several were injured. The only remaining evidence of the gun battle is a small bullet-hole in the marble by the entrance to platform 1. This incident had a direct influence on the introduction of 6 o'clock closing of hotels in 1916, which lasted in New South Wales until 1955.
Central Station's 75-metre iconic clock tower and the top two floors were built in the Free Classical style, and added to the north-western corner of the station. The floors of office accommodation and the clock tower had always been an integral part of the original design of the station. The foundation stone for the clock tower was laid on 26 September 1903 and the actual clock began operating at 10.22am on 3 March 1921. The clock tower stands 85.6 metres above mean sea level and features four clock faces, each of which are 4.77 metres in diameter. There are 302 steps to the clock face located inside the clock clock tower. Its facade bears the NSW Government Railways crest sculpted in stone.
After clocking on at 10.22am on March 3, 1921, and marking the passage of time for generations of Sydneysiders for the next 89 years, the prominent timepiece on 90m-tall Central Station clock tower was stopped for the first time on 3rd June 2010. The clock underwent a 17-month intricate overhaul by heritage experts, while the tower which holds it had its sandstone cleaned. Behind the scaffolding that covered the tower, the clock hands were positioned at 10.10, an industry standard that represents an optimistic "hands in the air".
On the opening day of Central Station, a Government spokesman pointed out that space had been reserved at the eastern side of the station for the extra tracks that might, one day, extend into the City. Twenty years later the prediction came true, which resulted in the building of the Central electric platforms for the City Underground. The expansion took place simultaneously with the introduction of the suburban electric trains. In February 1926 Platform 18 and 19 of the steam station were wired for electric trains with a demonstration run from Sydney to Hurstville. This wiring was tranferred to Platform 21 and 23 and Platform 14 and 15 were wired for Bankstown electric train services commencing October 1926.
Wiring was later worked into the new St James Station. As the Homebush electrification was complete,d Platforms 17 and 18 were used for electric trains to Homebush. Electric trains to Hornsby via the main line commenced on 21st January 1929. Trains to Hornsby used Platforms 16 and 18. Steam services to Parramatta and Liverpool were transferred to electric in November 1929. Western electric trains worked through to Wynyard from 28th February, 1932. The eight above-ground platforms were opened in 1926 as part of a large electrification and modernisation program aimed at improving Sydney s suburban railway services.
Eight new electrified platforms replaced platforms 16 to 19. These new high level platforms would become platforms 16 to 23. The two underground platforms were built as part of the Eastern Suburbs Railway.Their construction commenced in 1948 but the Eastern Suburbs line was not finished until 1979. While the plans called for four platforms, two (for the Southern Suburbs line) were found to be not needed and are used for archival storage by the New South Wales Railways. Another feature to be introduced at the same time was a new ornate entrance at Elizabeth Street featuring four sandstone ionic columns. The eastern (suburban, or electric ) part of Central Station today consists of 12 through platforms, all aligned north-south, 2 of which are underground, used by suburban Sydney Trains services and by a limited number of intercity services during peak hours.
Platform 26, Central Station
A plan for the Eastern Suburbs Railway Line was released in 1947 that included the construction of four underground platforms beside Central Station at Chalmers Street (only two would be used for the Eastern Suburbs line, the other two would be used for a Southern Suburbs line to La Perouse via Kensington). These works were a diversion from JCC Bradfield s original plan for Sydney s railway sydtem, which had trains emanating from St James not Central. Work on the four platforms was approximately 30% completed in 1952 when the project was abandoned. It was not revived until the mid 1960s. The first train ran on 23rd June 1979.
The platforms set aside for the Southern Suburbs line, that was never built are above the Illawarra Line platforms. Their presence explains the surprisingly long escalator trip down to platforms 24 and 25. The lift down to platforms 24 and 25 still has the button for 26 and 27, which would logically have been their correct numbers. As the platforms now designated 24 and 25 are below the unused platforms, they will have to be re-numbered 26 and 27 were all the platforms ever used. The unused platforms are complete minus their tracks, and could be used for train traffic at short notice. They were formerly used as archival storage, but are now empty. They could have been used for the Airport rail link which roughly follows the path of the line for which these platforms were built, but that line was built elsewhere. There was a concept in the early 1990s to use them for the proposed Very Fast Train to Melbourne which did not come to fruition, they may however be used for a proposed Redfern to Chatswood Rail Link.
A flying junction is a railway junction at which one or more diverging or converging tracks in a multiple-track route cross other tracks on the route by bridge or bridges to avoid conflict with other train movements. A more technical term is 'grade-separated junction'. A burrowing junction or dive-under occurs where the diverging line passes below the main line. Sydney s flying junctions are at the southern end of Central Station s suburban platforms constructed between the Cleveland Street bridge and Central Station.
They allow trains approaching Central from Redfern to change tracks before they reach their designated platform. Sydney's rather unsightly but very effective flying junctions were designed in the early 1920s by JCC Bradfield who was also the brains behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the City Underground. He had other flying junctions planned for around the system, but they were not built.
- Sydney's First Public Railway
- Planning Sydney's Suburban Railway Network
- Building Sydney's Suburban Railway Network
- Building Sydney's City Circle
- Forgotten Tunnels on the City Circle
- Sydney's Central Station
- Sydney's Abandoned Railway Lines
- Sydney's Railway Tunnels
- Sydney's Abandoned Railway Tunnels
- Eveleigh Railway Workshops
- Major Railway Accidents
The Story of Sydney's Railways
Devonshire Street Cemetery
Central Station, 1903, before the clock tower was built
Central Station clock tower