Oral history program

Conserving our heritage is not just about maintaining the historic buildings we manage, but also capturing the stories and histories behind the railways.

Examples of the heritage clocks conserved in the Sydney Trains heritage clock collection
Example of clocks in the Sydney Trains heritage clock collection

Running on time

The technological changes in timekeeping systems and the role of time in both safe working of trains and passenger information services across the network was integral to an expanding railway network.

As the railways spread out from Sydney and Newcastle, connecting their hinterlands to the coast, the need for accurate time to allow for the timetabling of trains and for arrival and departure times for passengers meant that a common, standard time had to be known at each station.

'Running on time' outlines the history and development of a standard system of timekeeping in the NSW Railways.

The aim of this report, as well as the short documentary film that accompanies it, is to collectively capture the important historical theme of 'railway time'.

End of the Line report

Running on time report

This report traces the evolution and introduction of railway time, its influence on the standardisation of time in NSW and Australia. It also looks at the physical manifestation of the system via the clocks, watches, and time keeping and recording devices that connected the rail system across the state.

The report also documents the history of collecting railway clocks and their wider interest as collectable antiques.

The Running on time report (PDF) is part of an oral history project written, researched and compiled from interviews with railway staff and NSW clockmakers.


Running on time archival video

Duration: 15 mins
Transcript (PDF, 153KB)

As part of preparing this report and short documentary, a series of interviews were conducted with railway staff and NSW clockmakers who service the historic clocks, maintain the collection and run the current systems of time information across the network.

Produced by: Art of Multimedia

One of the earliest single line signalling systems was the electric train staff (The ETS), a unique token system developed in England and introduced to Australia in the early 1890s
Take a closer look at the historic signalling equipment from NSW

Oral history study

The history of railways in New South Wales is a colourful one and signalling equipment has played a large part in making it safe.

One of the earliest single line signalling systems was the Electric Train Staff (ETS) System, a unique token system developed in England and introduced to Australia in the early 1890s.

Decommissioned in June 2014 following commencement of automated signalling on the South Coast line, this historic signalling system on the South Coast line was the last of its type on the NSW passenger network.

In 2014, Sydney Trains completed an oral history study to record this historic technology and safe working practice.

The project included:

  • An archival video of the equipment in use.
  • Oral recordings of interviews with staff and industry experts in the field of railway signaling.
  • A report outlining the history and changes of technology using information and memories of those who participated in the program.
End of the Line report

End of the Line report

In June 2014 Sydney Trains closed an important chapter in rail history by decommissioning one of its oldest signalling technologies, the ETS System on the Kiama to Bomaderry line, the last on the passenger network still to use it.

The End of the Line report (PDF) is part of an oral history project commissioned by Sydney Trains in 2014.

Written, researched and compiled from interviews conducted by: Frank Heimans, Cinetel Productions Pty Ltd for Sydney Trains.


End of the Line archival video

Duration: 17 mins
Transcript (PDF, 171KB)

In modernising signalling systems from Kiama to Bombaderry, one of the last examples of early signalling technologies in NSW, the ETS was decommissioned in 2014. The oral history study was completed to record this historic technology and safe working practice including video footage in its last month of operation and interviews with staff and railway experts.

Produced by: Cinetel Productions Pty Ltd

Highly commended in the 21st annual National Trust Heritage Awards

Highly commended in the National Trust of Australia NSW 2015 Heritage Awards.

The Minister of Environment and Heritage, the Hon. Mark Speakman MP, opened the 21st annual National Trust Heritage Awards on 13 May 2015. The awards celebrate and promote excellence in heritage projects across NSW.

At the 2015 awards, Sydney Trains' 'End of the Line' oral history project was recognised with a 'highly commended' award certificate for Heritage Recordings.