The Story of Sydney's Railways

    The Story of Sydney's Railways
  • 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

  • Sydney's First Public Railway
    The first public railway to be constructed in Sydney roughly followed the route of the first rural road built in the colony 60 years previous, linking Sydney and Parramatta. It was a single track line, built by a private company which went bankrupt 23 days before the inaugural train journey was scheduled to be made. The Government stepped in, enabling the project to be completed on time and the line to begin taking traffic in 1855. From thereon, the railway was to play a significant role in suburban development in Sydney's inner and outer west, and later the south and north. The railway, which got the green light in 1849, was intended to be Australia's first, but Melbourne was able to complete its first railway ahead of Sydney. It was a 3.2 km long broad gauge single line track from Flinders Street, Melbourne, across the Yarra River and through the sand hills of Port Melbourne to Hobsons Bay. The first service ran on 12th September, 1854.

    Sydney's railway was by far the largest and most ambitious engineering project embarked upon anywhere in Australia up until that time. Railway design and construction was still in its infancy; only 20 years earlier, George Stephenson had become the winner in the Rainhill trials - a competition sponsored by the Liverpool to Manchester railway to obtain a locomotive for carrying both passengers and freight. His steam engine, the Rocket, which pulled a load three times its own weight at the rate of 20 km/hr and hauled a coach filled with passengers at 39 km/hr, had transformed railways into a viable means of transport. British civil engineers William Randle and James Wallace, who worked with Stephenson and had become leaders in railway construction in Europe, were contracted to oversee the construction of Sydney's first railway.

    A British company owned by Randle's father was given the task of recruiting 500 artisans and navvies whose fares to Australia were paid for by the Government. By January 1854, 650 men were working on the project forming what was the biggest single free labour force the colony had seen. The project commenced with clearing the right-of-way and included fencing, building 27 bridges and 50 culverts, establishing a sandstone quarry at Lewisham, creating seven brickyards along the route, cutting tunnels under Cleveland Street and Parramatta Road, building workshops at Cleveland Paddocks (Redfern) and terminal stations at Redfern and Parramatta plus the four stations in between (Newtown, Ashfield, Burwood and Homebush). A branch line from the Sydney terminus to Darling Harbour was to be built simultaneously and involved the building of a bridge under Parramatta Road.

    The Governor of the day, Sir William Denison, did not want the railway to take the form it did. Believing himself to be an authority on such matters and having had some experience in civil engineering, Denison argued that a heavy rail system using steam locomotives would be uneconomical and inappropriate in a country as vast and rugged as Australia. As an alternative, he suggested light rail tracks be laid down the centre of Sydney's main roads for use by horse drawn trams. He advocated that a similar system also be applied in rural areas, but with tracks built alongside the roads. The civil engineers of his day scoffed at the idea, pointing out that such a system would be totally inadequate to haul primary produce back to the major cities for distribution from rural areas. In places like the Blue Mountains where it was envisaged that railways would be implemented to replace the horse and cart, it would be a case of the replacement being no different to the method being replaced, except that it used rails rather than roads. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and the Legislative Assembly backed their civil engineers.

    The first sod for the Sydney to Parramatta railway was ceremonially turned by Gov. FitzRoy's daughter on 3rd July 1850. There is some doubt as to whether this ceremony took place near the hay market in Campbell Street or at Cleveland Paddocks (Redfern), an area south of today's Central Station now occupied by the multi-level crossovers which was the site of the line's first Sydney Terminal. The station was originally to be built near the hay market but it was moved closer to Redfern so that a branch line could be built north from the station to Darling Harbour. It was not for some decades that Central station was moved to its present location. Historic records indicate that the soil breaking ceremony took place at Cleveland Paddocks but on the day the ceremony took place discussions about moving the site to this location were still in progress, so actual place where this event took place remains in doubt.

    Four locomotives arrived from England on the 'John Fielding' (or 'Fielden') and landed at Campbell's Wharf, Circular Quay on 13th January 1855. The locomotives were hauled by a team of twenty horses to Slade's dairy paddock, near the site of the old railway stores building at Eveleigh, then placed on tracks and drawn into a temporary shed not far from the present Redfern Railway Station. William Scott, locomotive engineer with Robert Stephenson, who brought the locomotives out, then prepared them for service. On 29th March 1855 No. 1 undertook a trial run as far as Newtown and was subsequently employed as the ballast train from 26th April. It hauled the first passenger train, a special service, from Sydney Station to Long Cove viaduct (near the present site of Lewisham) on 24th May 1855, Queen Victoria's birthday. The train carried the Governor, Sir William Denison, and members of the Legislative Council. The line was officially opened on 26th September 1855, though it only went as far as the temporary Parramatta Junction terminus (Granville) at Dog Trap Road (Woodville Road).

    The gauge originally chosen was the English 'standard' gauge of 1.435 metres. Victoria and South Australia were about to build railways of their own and followed New South Wales' lead, settling on standard guage for their railways. Sydney's city surveyor, Irish born Francis Shields, then successfully lobbied for the Sydney railway to be changed to the wider, Irish 'broad' gauge of 1.6 metres. Victoria and South Australia, which had already started laying standard guage track, reluctantly carried the cost of changing their existing track to the broad 1.6 metre gauge to remain consistent with NSW. After the original Sydney to Parramatta line had been laid as broad guage, James Wallace insisted the track be lifted and changed back to the 1.435 metre gauge, because it was cheaper and was being adopted universally as the standard guage for railways. Victoria and South Australia refused to change theirs back again, leaving NSW out of step with all other existing railways on the Australian continent. This precipated the ludicrous situation of there being three different gauges used across Australia (Western Australia, Queenand and parts of South Australia settled on another, even narrower guage when they built their railways) and the inconvenience of passengers having to change trains at state borders before a standard gauge for interstate services was adopted.

    The 22.2 km single line track between Sydney to Parramatta was opened on 26th September, 1855. No. 3 hauled the first passenger train leaving at 9 am, followed by No. 2 locomotive hauling the official train at 11 am. The engine driver for the official service was William Sixsmith while the fireman was William Webster. Locomotive No. 4 left at noon while No. 1 was out of service that day and did not run. The trip to Parramatta took 50 minutes, and stopped at all four intermediate stations - Newtown, Ashfield, Burwood and Homebush. On the first day a total of 3,554 passengers were carried and the fares to Parramatta were 4 shillings, 3 shillings and 2 shillings respectively for 1st, 2nd and 3rd class. The event attracted crowds of people dressed in their finery eager to be the first passengers. The service proved a great success but the locomotives were too heavy for the Barlow rails then in use. As lighter locomotives became available in Sydney the original four locomotives were confined to goods train working and shunting duties. The railway proved such a great success it was duplicated in 1857 and quadrupled 12 years later.

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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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