Info courtesy of Historic Electric Traction.
Graham Harper 1994 updated by John Oakes 1998.
It was during the 1890s that much discussion took place about a possible extension of the railway from the terminal at Devonshire St. into the City. Workers would be able to travel direct into the City without changing to a steam train at Sydney station. Several schemes for a City Railway were proposed, including one for a surface steam railway to Circular Quay and another for a huge Terminal at Hyde Park.
The plan ultimately adopted was that of Dr J.C.C Bradfield, who proposed and designed an elaborate electric railway system to serve the City and its suburbs. Bradfield's scheme included the City Circle and Sydney Harbour Bridge as well as the lines to Cronulla, East Hills, Bankstown and Cabramatta via Regents Park.
However, many changes were made to the original concept, and much of Bradfield's proposal has never been completed. Plans which were discarded or "postponed" include railways from North Sydney to the Northern Beaches, St Leonard's to Epping, Central to Matraville and Town Hall to Gladesville.
At each stage of construction of the City Railway, sufficient work was completed on proposed extensions to enable excavation to recommence in the future without interfering with the train service already operating. Thus, at North Sydney there is a tunnel leading from Platform 2 over the Up North Shore towards Mosman for the Northern Beaches Railway. At Town Hall, Platforms 4 and 5 on the Low Level were originally provided for a Western Suburbs Railway to North Strathfield and Homebush or Flemington via Parramatta Road - these ended up being brought into use for the present (1979) Eastern Suburbs Railway.
When the underground platforms at Central (24 and 25) were constructed during the 1970s, two additional platforms (26 and 27) were built above them in case they might be needed for a Southern Suburbs Railway to Mascot. Two red doors halfway down the stairs to 24 and 25 indicate their level and their numbers are included in the panel next to the door of the lift.
It was intended that St James would be a busy junction and changeover point. The double-track Western Suburbs railway from Platforms 4 and 5 at Town Hall would curve around to St James via Pitt Street, O'Connell Street, Bridge Street and Macquarie Street. South of St James the line would continue as the Eastern Suburbs Railway passing under Hyde Park, over the City Outer Track (the line taking trains from St James to Museum), then following Oxford Street to Bondi Junction (with a possible extension to Watson's Bay). A branch at Taylor Square would take trains through Randwick to Botany. Crossovers at St James would allow exchange of trains between these tracks and the City Circle.
The first electric train in Sydney ran between Central and Oatley on 1 March 1926. The official first train between Central and St James ran on 9 December 1926, and the line opened for passengers a few days later on 20 December. From the start, the underground could only be used by electric trains, and from Christmas Eve, they could operate between St James and the Royal National Park, Electrification expanded rapidly and had reached Liverpool, Bankstown, Parramatta and Hornsby by 1929. Electric trains could operate to Kingsgrove in 1931, Penrith in 1955, Lithgow in 1957, Cowan in 1959, Gosford in 1960, Campbelltown in 1968, Riverstone in 1975, Waterfall in 1980, Wyong in 1982, Newcastle in 1984 and Wollongong in 1985. Electrification of the entire Sydney suburban system was completed 17 August 1991 when double-deck electric trains replaced rail motors operating between Riverstone and Richmond. Since then a short branch has been laid to Olympic Park, which opened on 8 March 1998.
Not all the electrification works were for commuter trains. The western line was wired to handle heavy coal traffic expected from collieries at Wallerawang. The traffic did not eventuate and the project was halted at Bowenfels, just west of Lithgow.
The new Central Station stood on part of the old Sydney Terminal site which opened in 1906. Terminal Platforms 16-19 and the goods yard were abolished to make way for it.
The four tracks to Wynyard opened in 1932, shortly before the Harbour Bridge. The two on the Eastern side were used by trams until the North Shore tram network closed in 1958, and were replaced by additional traffic lanes.
Until 1956, many trains terminated in the City. Services from Wynyard High Level (Platforms 3 & 4) ran through to North Sydney, but Wynyard Low Level (Platforms 5 & 6) and St James were busy terminals. They were connected in 1956 when Circular Quay Station opened, and trains could run right round the City Circle without having to reverse direction.
St James was built by the cut and cover method. A large hole was excavated, walls were built, a roof added, and the rest of the hole filled in. The outer two platforms were built for trains travelling to and from Circular Quay. The other platforms were meant for the Eastern Suburbs and Western Suburbs Railways, but have never been used by trains. Tunnels to Circular Quay were completed as far as the eastern portal, but were not used by passenger trains until the viaduct was completed in 1956. However, for a short time from 1933, Raymond Mas grew mushrooms (on an experimental basis) just inside the portal at Circular Quay. A siding was laid in the City Outer Tunnel (the one now taking trains from Circular Quay to St James) in 1936.
St James was a busy terminal station for 30 years form 1926 to 1956. Facilities were provided for the rapid handling of traffic. This included two dead-end sidings in the Western Suburbs Railway Tunnel, located between the two tunnels to Circular Quay at the northern end of the station under Macquarie Street. A train would arrive on Platform 1, passengers would alight and the train would proceed to one of the sidings. The driver would change ends and the train would proceed to Platform 4 (now renumbered Platform 2) for loading.
In the peak hours, relay drivers would be employed to save the time taken for the driver to change ends. On departing Platform 1, the train would proceed to the 7-car mark (indicated by a large painted 7 on the wall and a light). A second driver would board the 8th car, still in the platform, and signal the first driver to proceed to the dead-end. The second driver would take the train out to Platform 4.
A signal box was provided to control the points and signals, but these could be set to automatic at quiet times.
During the Second World War, the tunnel that takes trains from St James to Circular Quay was used for wartime operations and contained fighter command offices, Army signallers, search lights personnel and the RAAF anti aircraft headquarters. Bomb shelters for the general public were located in the vacant tunnels for the Eastern Suburbs Railway under Hyde Park.
When services were extended to Circular Quay in 1956, the terminating facilities at St James were retained for use in emergencies until 1991. One or two trains normally terminated each weekday at St James, partly to keep the staff conversant with the operating procedures and partly to keep a shine on the rails to ensure reliable operation of the track circuit. The track circuit detects the presence of a train on the track by allowing an electrical current to pass form one rail to the other through the steel wheels and axles. It ensures that the appropriate signals stay at "stop" and that points do not move under a train.
The signal box was clipped out of use for about a year in 1985-86 due to the working of an asbestos train. This work train occupied one or other of the city lines in the evenings when the trains that used the sidings ran, so it was not possible to use the dead-ends on a regular basis and the rails became rusty. It was not considered safe to use the facility because the track circuits on the rusty rails would be unreliable, and the main line points were clipped out of use. When the asbestos working ceased, the St James signal box was brought back into service. However, during 1990, asbestos was discovered in the signal box and terminal sidings, so the facility was taken out of use again. Work to re-cable the signals and relocate the signal frame to one of the other platforms was commenced, but later suspended. The signals on the terminal tracks and the main line have now been removed.
The terminal sidings occupy a double track tunnel located under Macquarie Street between the two single-track tunnels of the City Circle. This tunnel curves to the right and drops quite sharply along its 250 metre length. At the terminal end, it is very much lower than the City Inner line on the left. This is because the double-track tunnel was designed to pass under the City Inner line and curve around to Town Hall as part of the Western Suburbs Railway.
Just beyond the end of the sidings, located next to the Mitchell Library, the tunnel comes to an end at a rock face. However, a small pilot tunnel at roof level extends further to a deep shaft beneath Shakespeare Place. The incomplete section marks the boundary between the section tunnelled from the station and that excavated from a cut and cover site behind the Conservatorium of Music. A second pilot tunnel is located at a lower level, but this is blocked by a spoil at the northern end. Passing trains cause a strong wind to blow through the pilot tunnel, adding to the eeriness of the experience for those who venture up the ladder to the small bore in search of tunnel secrets.
Under Shakespeare Place the pilot tunnel opens out to another double-track tunnel. It has a concrete roof but sandstone walls. The tunnel stretches away in a left-hand curve under the Botanical Gardens towards Bridge Street. It passes under the City Inner Line and starts a tight arc that would have taken it round to Town Hall.
Construction ceased after sufficient tunnel had been constructed to clear the City Inner Line, the end probably being near the intersection of Macquarie and Bridge Street. It is possible to enter this tunnel, but flooding prevents much progress (unless some form of watercraft is available). Because the tunnel is on a falling grade, the water is about 2 metres deep at the northern end. At the southern end, water can drain into City Circle's underground drainage system, preventing the level of Lake St James from rising. An eel (Eric) has been spotted in the lake on several occasions!
When the City Inner Tunnel was being used for wartime operations, a wooden zigzag staircase was located in the shaft that leads up to Shakespeare Place. The concrete stairs at the top are still in place (located opposite Mitchell Library) and now form part of the emergency exit form the Cahill Expressway Tunnel. Another tunnel leads off the shaft into the City Inner tunnel.
There are persistent rumours that General Macarthur had his wartime headquarters somewhere in this area.
In the early hours of Saturday 16 November 1968, a large fire broke out in the shaft containing the zigzag staircase, the acrid smoke stopping trains on the City Circle for about 12 hours.
The Eastern Suburbs Railway Tunnels at the southern end of St James have never seen a train. The 1979 Eastern Suburbs Line was built on a different route that passes underneath the City Circle just to the north of St James Station.
At the Museum end of the centre platforms, a blast curtain opening leads into a double-track tunnel, located between the two City Circle tracks. After a short distance, the double-track tunnel becomes two single-line tunnels that begin to rise steeply. They rise over the City Outer tunnel, turning towards Oxford Street. 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 South, at a point that is about level with Museum station but well to the east. Rocks are piled up behind barricades.
The double-line tunnel is divided into two bomb shelters, separated by a solid transverse wall from floor to ceiling. Access between the shelters is via concrete blast curtains (protecting the doorways), with a similar curtain higher up for ventilation. Each shelter is about 30 metres long. The single track tunnels are also divided in a similar way. Blast curtains also protect the alcoves between the two tunnels. Further along the tunnels, the blast curtains have been removed, and the remaining rubble and reinforcing rods make walking difficult. Tree roots from Hyde Park have invaded some of the tunnels by means of the 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, 55 years of it. The oldest is in the form of pencilled names and serial numbers of soldiers, who apparently were involved in the construction of the bomb shelters in 1942. The floor rises as a ramp towards the ceiling at the end of the tunnel, probably the means of access from Hyde Park during the war. We have also noted some more recent (and very wet) concrete, possibly associated with other bomb shelters that may been built under Hyde Park.
There have been proposals to use these tunnels for an Eastern Suburbs light rail system, and for the Very Fast Train to Melbourne. However, the Eastern Suburbs Railway proposed by Bradfield will probably never be built.
Likewise, it is most unlikely that the Western Suburbs Railway will ever be built. Much of the tunnel constructed for it is flooded, and its platforms at Town Hall have been taken over by the existing Eastern Suburbs Railway. The tracks to the North of St James have only been used by terminating trains.
St James itself has seen decline. Its lines are more in keeping with another age. The busy days of terminating trains and the shouts of "all change" have gone. The opening of the Eastern Suburbs line in 1979 robbed St James of much traffic, as trains from Waterfall and Cronulla now proceed to Martin Place and Bondi Junction instead. Outside peak hours, St James has become a backwater on a busy rail system.
Above: Sydney's underground tunnels.
Page Created: 23/09/99 Last Updated: 20/06/00
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