Lost Railways:
City Circle Railway Tunnels

The City Circle railway was built in stages over a period of 30 years. As each stage was brought into use, sufficient construction work was completed to enable extensions of the system to be made at a later date without interference to the service already provided. Thus, at North Sydney, there are tunnels leading half a kilometre towards Mosman for the Peninsula Railway, the entrance of which can be seen beyond the Waverton end of platform 2. At Town Hall, additional platforms were provided at the lower level for the line to Gladesville. These are now used by the Eastern Suburbs Railway.

Even in the 1970's with the construction of the Eastern Suburbs Railway (to a route quite different from Bradfield's proposals), two additional platforms and short sections of associated tunnels were constructed at Central for the Southern Suburbs Railway to Mascot, just in case it was ever decided to build it. These platforms are above the Illawarra Line platforms, and their presence explains the surprisingly long escalator trip down to platforms 24 and 25. The unused platforms, numbered 26 and 27, are complete minus their tracks, and could be used for train traffic at short notice, though this now seems unlikely. The Airport rail link which roughly follows the path of the line for which these platforms were built, has been built elsewhere and the occupation of platforms 26 and 27 by Cityrail's Central Document Storage department seems permanent. Redfern station also contains two half built platforms which we are intended for use by the Southern Suburbs Railway to Mascot. They are located above ground between platforms 10 and 11 and include a tunnel mouth leading under Lawson Street and the Illawarra lines. The up platform was designed to be on the same level as platform 10 and the down line platform below it on the same level as platform 11.

Bradfield's original city railway proposals 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 first section of the city railway loop was above ground between Cleveland Street (now Redfern) and Central station. It was designed for use by electric trains only and the first service ran between Central and Oatley. The 2.0km section between Central to St James via Museum was opened on 20th December 1926. The 2.6km western arm of the underground railway from Central to Wynyard via Town Hall wa 2s opened on 28th February 1932 with the opening of the Harbour Bridge. The City Circle loop was finally completed in 1956, the final link in Bradfield's masterplan being incorporated into the design of the Cahill Expressway on Circular Quay. The 1.2km section between Wynyard to St James via Circular Quay was opened to traffic on 22nd January 1956. At the time, a new series of suburban rail carriages were introduced to provide maximum comfort for passengers using the tunnels of the city underground. Bradfield had input into their design, and consequently they became known as Bradfield cars.

After the city stations were brought into service, the electrification of the suburban railway expanded rapidly, reaching Sutherland, Liverpool, Parramatta, Bankstown and Hornsby by 1929. Progress then slowed until outer suburban development required extension of the electrified system to Penrith in 1955, Lithgow in 1957, Cowan in 1959, Gosford 1960, Campbelltown in 1968, Waterfall 1980, Wyong 1982, Newcastle 1984 and Wollongong in 1985.

The lines from Wynyard which crossed the Harbour Bridge to a new station at Milsons Point and then on to a junction with the existing line at Waverton, opened with the bridge in 1932. Four lines were provided between Wynyard and North Sydney, although two of these were used by trams as a stop-gap measure until the North Sydney to Mosman and Northern Peninsula Railway was built. As this line never eventuated, trams continued to use the tracks until the closure of the North Shore tram network in 1958. The bridge tramway lanes are now used by the Cahill Expressway. At Wynyard the tram concourse which were platforms 1 and 2 was located next to the north shore platforms on the upper level behind what is today a walled off area. The tram concourse is currently used as for a hotel car park. One of the tramway tunnels from the bridge portal was once used as a police shooting range. The other tunnel is disused down to the Big Fan which vents stale air from all six platforms.

St James and Wynyard were busy terminals until 1956 when these two stations were connected by the line through Circular Quay, allowing trains to run into the City and back out again without having to stop and reverse direction. St James was intended to be the junction station of the city circle loop. It was built as was much of the City Railway by the cut and cover method. In this way, a hole was dug in the ground, the walls and roof of the tunnel were built after which the hole was filled in. The outer two platforms of St. James were for the trains travelling to and from Circular Quay which is their current use. The inner two platforms were for trains travelling to and from the Watsons Bay / Randwick area (then referred to as the Eastern Suburbs Railway). These have never been used by trains although the tunnels exist for some distance in either direction.

In 1936, the track which ultimately would carry trains from Circular Quay to St James (known as the City Outer) was built from St James as far back as the tunnel portal at Circular Quay. This line was used for the storage of trains between the peak hours. During World War II, this tunnel and those intended for the Eastern Suburbs Railway at the Museum end were converted to bomb shelters in case Sydney suffered an air raid. The bomb shelters were removed from the Circular Quay tunnel in 1956 for the building of the line but remain to this day in the double line tunnel located between the two single line tunnels now in use. The north-bound siding tunnel intended for the Gladesville line drops quite sharply along its 250 metre length. At its end, it is very much lower than the City Inner railway and stops directly under the Mitchell Library where there is a rock face and a small pilot tunnel at roof level. At the Quay end of the pilot tunnel is another double line tunnel, with a concrete arched roof, but sandstone walls. This tunnel stretches away in a left hand curve towards Bridge Street. It passes under the City Inner Line and starts a tight arc which would ultimately have led to Town Hall, but avoiding Wynyard. Construction ceased after sufficient tunnel had been built to clear the City Inner Line, the end being around where it would go under Macquarie Street.

At the entrance to the flooded tunnel at the end of the pilot tunnel is a vertical shaft leading upwards. In the days of bomb shelters at this end, a zig zag stair case used to lead up this shaft to a pill box in Shakespeare Place. The staircase and pill box have long since been removed. General Macarthur is said to have had his wartime headquarters somewhere in this area, but there are no signs of this activity. Indeed there are so many theories on places where MacArthur had his base that the man could not have possibly used them all. What we do know is that they were designated as air raid shelters if the city came under attack, and used by the RAAF No 1 Fighter Sector, later known as Air Defence Headquarters.

After the bridge was opened, a new suburban railway line between St Leonards and Eastwood was given the green light but funds for the project dried up during the great depression of the 1930s and it was never built. Tunnels cut for the Eastern Suburbs railway at the Museum end of St James station have never seen a train and it is most unlikely that they ever will as the ESR has been built to quite a different plan. It actually crosses underneath St James at right angles just north of the platform. A blast curtained opening leads into the double track tunnel originally intended for the eastern suburbs railway almost immediately on the Museum side of St. James station. Like the spare tunnels at the Circular Quay end, this tunnel is located between the two currently in use for rail traffic. They are on a fairly steep gradient upwards. After a short distance, the double line tunnel becomes two parallel single line tunnels, still rising sharply. In this way, they rise up over the top of the City Outer tunnel, in the direction of Taylor Square. Again, just enough tunnel was built to ensure that rail traffic would not be disrupted when construction resumed. The tunnels end at a barricade under Hyde Park about level with but well to the East of Museum Station. Behind the barricades are rocks piled up where the cut and cover construction work ended. The existence of this tunnel system can easily be noted by watching trains arrive at and leave Museum at the St James end. The reverse curvature of the tunnels in use now to get around the tunnel between them is obvious.

During the war, the double line tunnel was divided into a number of bomb shelters, each divided by a solid transverse wall from floor to ceiling. Access between the shelters is via a concrete blast curtain, with a similar curtain higher up for ventilation. In parts of the tunnel, tree roots from Hyde Park above have pierced their way through drainage holes and run down the walls and across the floor. At the Museum end of these tunnels, a great deal of graffiti has been scrawled on the walls. Careful searching reveals the penciled names and serial numbers of soldiers who it is assumed were involved with the construction of the bomb shelters there in the 1942. Tunneling for the eastern suburbs railway via the branch line south from St. James station commenced in 1917, but the project remained uncompleted for decades.



Unused tunnels for the Eastern Suburbs Railway Line

Tunnels cut for the Eastern Suburbs Railway at the Museum end of St James station have never seen a train and it is most unlikely that they ever will as the Eastern Suburbs Railway has been built to quite a different plan. It actually crosses underneath St James at right angles just north of the platform. A blast curtained opening leads into the double track tunnel originally intended for the eastern suburbs railway almost immediately on the Museum side of St. James station. Like the spare tunnels at the Circular Quay end, this tunnel is located between the two currently in use for rail traffic. They are on a fairly steep gradient upwards. After a short distance, the double line tunnel becomes two parallel single line tunnels, still rising sharply. The place where the tracks were intended to go are clearly visible on the floor between the existing platforms (above). The doorways at the end of the platform occupies the tunnel's entrance arches. Up until the 1990s, the present platforms were not connected, and there was a gap left for the tracks. These have been filled in to form one large platform for north and south bound trains.

In this way, they rise up over the top of the City Outer tunnel, in the direction of Taylor Square. Again, just enough tunnel was built to ensure that rail traffic would not be disrupted when construction resumed. The tunnels end at a barricade under Hyde Park about level with but well to the East of Museum Station. Behind the barricades are rocks piled up where the cut and cover construction work ended. The existence of this tunnel system can easily be noted by watching trains arrive at and leave Museum at the St James end. The reverse curvature of the tunnels in use now to get around the tunnel between them is obvious.


Platform 26, Central Station

Unused platforms at Central Station

Never used platforms 25 and 26 at Central Station, above the eastern suburbs platforms. Similar ones exist at Redfern, having been built during the construction of the eastern suburbs line, but were never used. Like St. James station, these stations have stub tunnels, although they are much shorter.

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 the Southern Suburbs line). These works were a diversion from Bradfield s plan which had trains emanating from St James not Central. Works on the four platforms was approximately 30% completed in 1952 when the project was abandoned again. The project 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, and 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 & 27, which would logically have been their correct numbers, as the platforms now designated 24 and 25 are below the unused platforms, which will now be numbered 26 & 27 if they are ever used.

The Airport rail link which roughly follows the path of the line for which these platforms were built, has been built elsewhere. 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. 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.


Unused tunnel north of North Sydney station

Unused platforms at Wynyard and North Sydney

Four lines were provided between Wynyard and North Sydney, although two of these were used by trams as a stopgap measure until the North Sydney to Mosman and Northern Peninsula Railway was built. As this line never eventuated, trams continued to use the tracks until the closure of the North Shore tram network in 1958. The bridge tramway lanes are now used by the Cahill Expressway. At Wynyard the tram concourse which were platforms 1 and 2 was located next to the north shore platforms on the upper level behind what is today a walled off area. The tram concourse is currently used as for a hotel car park. One of the tramway tunnels from the bridge portal was once used as a police shooting range. The other tunnel is disused down to the Big Fan which vents stale air from all six platforms.

Wartime Military Command Centre

Part of the arc of the north-bound siding tunnel from St James station was intended for the Gladesville line. The tunnel ends directly under the Mitchell Library where there is a rock face and a pilot tunnel at roof level and it is believed that this tunnel housed a military command centre. Manned by Australian and American personnel, the centre was said to be connected to radar stations, weather signals, movements from airports, army and Volunteer Air Observer Corps reporting posts, air raid sirens and blackout control. A huge table is said to have carried a map of the New South Wales coast and adjoining areas, on which movements of aircraft and shipping were plotted.

The story goes that the staff at the centre were billeted in the nearby Metropole Hotel, occupying three of its floors. Entrance to the tunnel was by a set of wooden zig zag steps leading down from the middle of the road opposite the State Library. The staircase and a pill box above it have long since been removed but a manhole above the stairwell still exists in the roadway of Shakespeare Place. Due to poor ventilation in the tunnel, the headquarters were moved to Bankstown where the Operations Room was set up initially in the local picture theatre, surrounded by barbed wire enclosures.

Soldiers on duty at the City Circle Headquarters when Japanese submarines entered Sydney Harbour recall that, though all the warnings, blackouts, sirens, etc. were set off, the people of Sydney thought it was just another practice raid and did not take too much notice. Such was not the case in the tunnel and a number of personnel got jumpy, fearing the Fighter Sector would be targeted by the Japanese as the orders to depth charge the subs would have been given by Fighter Sector. One guard actually rushed up the steps and machine-gunned a few cars travelling along Macquarie Street with their lights on. A soldier who recalled the incident said the guard actually shot an Army official through the leg as he was coming to Fighter Sector.




"St James Lake"


Wynyard Station tram tunnel, which led onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge and what is now the walking lane on the bridge's east side. It is now part of a nearby hotel's underground car park. The entrance tunnels to Wynyard station (below) are visible beside the pathway.




Entrance to a tunnel which leads to one of the unused platforms at Redfern Station


Site of the unbuilt platforms at Redfern Station


Building Wynyard Station

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