The Story of Sydney's Railways

Planning Sydney's Suburban Railway Network
Though the routes followed by a number of today's suburban trains had all been constructed and were in regular use by the turn of the 20th century, these lines had been laid with the primary object of providing transportation links between Sydney and the rural centres throughout New South Wales rather than a public transport service to the people of Sydney. The increased amount of passenger transport in the metropolitan area during the latter half of the 19th century forced the Government to take a long, hard look at the whole suburban railway network.

In 1894, the Engineer-in-Chief, Henry Deane made an eight month trip overseas to study railway development, and another in 1904. The results of his findings and his recommendations being contained in his report of 1895, 'Proposed System of Rapid transport for the City of Sydney and suburbs'. The plan included the installation of more suburban stations than were originally planned, the duplication of all lines to allow two-way traffic, the construction of a railway tunnel under the harbour, electrification of the Blue Mountains and Illawarra lines, the conversion of the Sydney tram system from steam power to electricity, a rail link to Sydney's eastern suburbs and the building of a new Sydney railway terminal.

In 1905, at the time when the site of the national capital was being debated, Deane suggested that an electrified railway to Canberra using power generated from the waters of the Snowy Mountains could be built if the Canberra site was chosen, adding weight to NSW Premier Joseph Carruthers' push for the site. The suburban electrification programme and the building of Central station were the only recommendations to be implemented during his term of office along with the extension of the Darling Harbour goods line to Lewisham via Rozelle in modified form.


The original Sydney railway termninal at Redfern, 1900

In 1906, the Sydney rail terminal was moved from Redfern to an imposing new building constructed on the site of the old Devonshire Street Burial Grounds, which today is known as Central Railway Station. At the time, it consisted only of the section now used for interstate and intercity rail services. The platforms used by today's suburban trains were added ten years later when the underground lines to St James and Wynyard were being built. A spur line was built to Botany for the sole purpose of transporting exhumed coffins from the old Devonshire Street Cemetery to the Botany cemetery. The line was later modified and extended to create the Botany goods line in use today.

Even before the first section of track had been laid in Sydney back in the 1850s, there had been vigorous debate as to where the Sydney terminus should be located. Originally, it was planned for the hay market area but William Randall, who was employed to construct the first line between Sydney and Parramatta, successfully had its location moved to Redfern, so that a branchline to the Darling Harbour wharves could be incorporated into it. For 20 years, Randall's replacement John Whitton pushed to have the line extended to a station under Hyde Park, but Gov. Denison was strongly against the idea and blocked it. Chief Commissioner Edward Miller Gard Eddy also pushed for Sydney's main railway terminus to be moved closer to the city centre but it was not until Deane became Engineer-in-Chief that it happened.

It was E.W. O'Sullivan, the Minister for Public Works who selected the site for Central Station. By the time it was opened on 4th August 1906, there were a number of Government ministers including the new Minister for Public Works, C.A. Lee, who questioned whether it had been built in the right place, believing that further extensions into the city centre would be needed in the future. To this end, Deane had set aside land at the eastern side of the station for this purpose.


The original Lewisham Viaduct over Long Cove Creek on the Western Line

Between the time of the opening of the original Redfern terminal and the new Central terminal, the number of locomotives in the railway's fleet had grown from 4 to 620. Passenger carriages serving the Sydney metro area now numbered 681 compared to the initial 28, and the number of seats for suburban passengers had risen from 924 to 36,929. By 1926, when the first section of the underground city circle was opened, 111.6 million passengers travelled on 627kms of track annually. The newly appointed Engineer-in-Chief James Fraser expressed doubt as to the public transport system's ability to cope with anticipated growth without major changes being made. His first report included many recommendations made by Henry Deane 12 years earlier. He advocated the complete electrification of the suburban rail system, the extension of the railway into the central business district by means of underground lines and the connection of the North Shore line with the rest of the suburban rail system via a tunnel.

The task of implementing Fraser's recommendations was entrusted to John Job Crew Bradfield who was appointed Chief Engineer for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway construction within the Public Works Department. Bradfield studied bridge and railway construction in Europe and America before unveiling his masterplan in 1913 which rejected the popular idea of a tunnel in favour of a cantilever bridge providing both road and rail links between north and south. Railway lines would be placed on either side of the roadway on the bridge. The tracks would go underground after leaving the bridge and join up with the underground rail loop on opposite sides of the circuit. The western tracks would connect with the existing North Shore line which at that time terminated at St. Leonards. The tracks on the eastern side of the bridge would connect at the northern end to a light rail service to Mosman. After joining the underground loop, the line was to be extended to the east and south, terminating at Bondi Beach and Maroubra respectively.


J.C.C. Bradfield's original city railway proposal, 1912

J.C.C. Bradfield's original city railway proposal, upon which today's City Circle loop is based, saw St. James as a busy junction and changeover point. In addition to the lines now in use, a double track railway was to be built from Gladesville joining the City Circle on its western arc and leaving it on its eastern side for Watson's Bay and the South Eastern suburbs. This line was to enter the city from the west at Darling Harbour, run underground and curve around from Town Hall, under O'Connell Street, to St. James, where it would utilise the two spare centre platforms. Two lines would run under Hyde Park and Oxford Street to Taylor Square, where there was to be a junction. One pair of lines would go to Watson's Bay and the other through Paddington and Randwick towards Botany.

The building of the harbour bridge coincided with the construction of a system of underground railways in Sydney's Central business district, known today as the City Circle, and the bridge was designed with this in mind. The bridge was designed to carry four lanes of road traffic, flanked on each side by two railway tracks and a footpath. Both sets of rail tracks were linked into the underground Wynyard railway station on the south (city) side of the bridge by symmetrical ramps and tunnels. The eastern-side railway tracks were intended for use by a planned rail link to the Northern Beaches;[citation needed] in the interim they were used to carry trams from the North Shore into a terminal within Wynyard station, and when tram services were discontinued in 1958, they were converted into extra traffic lanes. The Bradfield Highway, which is the main roadway section of the bridge and its approaches, is named in honour of Bradfield's contribution to the bridge.

In 1923 the first sod was turned on the city railway. Bradfield had a grand vision for Sydney's railway system that has only been partly fulfilled. Bradfield's concept called for the construction of a network of underground city railway lines in association with the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a new rail terminal, Central. A larger network of lines was proposed for the western, eastern and southern suburbs however most of these lines remained concepts only and have never been constructed. The Depression, and later World War II, along with the growth of the motor car led to passenger numbers in Bradfield's plan being grossly overestimated.

Parts of the city underground were constructed and exist as the present-day City Circle, with small sections built for the additional proposed city lines such as additional platforms at Wynyard and St James railway stations which have never been used for heavy rail transport. The underground city loop was constructed originally as a stub line to St James, and the line through Town Hall and Wynyard to the Harbour Bridge. It was not until 1955 that the loop was completed by the construction of Circular Quay station. A line to the eastern suburbs was eventually built, but along a different alignment to that envisaged by Bradfield, who proposed a line along Oxford Street.

Bradfield retired from the New South Wales Department of Public Works at the end of July 1933 after 42 years of service with the intention of continuing to work as a consulting engineer.


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Locomotive No. 1
Locomotive No. 1, the first railway engine to haul a train on the Sydney to Parramatta Railway (above) is now on display in the Powerhouse Museum. Designed and built in England by Robert Stephenson & Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne, it is significant in British railway history as it is a very rare survivor of a McConnell-designed goods express locomotive of the early 1850s. It is believed to be the only known example of its type in the world. From 1857 locomotive No.1 was used mainly for hauling goods and passengers between Sydney, Campbelltown, Richmond and Penrith. It was withdrawn from service in 1877 after 22 years of operation, having travelled 250,468km.


Lewisham Viaduct
This viaduct, which bridged Long Cove Creek (known today as Hawthorne Canal), was by far the largest construction work on the line and in its day was a major engineering achievement. By the 1880s, the cement which bound the sandstone blocks of the viaduct together was starting to crumble, and a replacement bridge was built to carry the newly duplicated line. A new the new 3-span Whipple Truss bridge, designed by R. Kendall,came into service in 1886 when the line was quadruplicated. These were subsequently added to in 1926 by Warren Trusses when sextuplication occurred. The bridge was replaced by a steel girder structure in the 1950s. Spans of each of these bridges, except for the original viaduct, remain at the site to illustrate a century of railway bridge construction.

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