Central Station - in-depth history

The first 'Sydney' station

Sydney Station - later to be known as Redfern, re-drawn from engraving of 1855The first terminal station in Sydney was built in 1855 on a site known as the 'Cleveland Paddock', located between Devonshire and Cleveland streets. It also incorporated a goods train line that passed under the George Street road overbridge at Railway Square in what was known as 'the dive'. This line went to the former railway yards at Darling Harbour.

The first station was a simple affair consisting of a single 30.5 metre long wooden platform and a corrugated iron shed. The platform would later be Central Station extended to 61 metres. Additional iron buildings were also added to house offices and public rooms.

An engine shed, carriage shed and goods shed (erected in 1856) were located next to the station building. The ensuing years saw more yards and buildings built to accommodate the additional trains for a rapidly expanding railway network.

The station became known as Redfern soon after opening simply because it was at that end of town.

The second 'Sydney' station

The second Redfern Station soon after opening in 1874.The second terminal station opened in 1874, replacing the first station on the same site. Its construction commenced in 1871 and like its predecessor, it continued to be known as Redfern.

Designed by the famed New South Wales Government Railway's Chief Engineer, John Whitton, the new station's design incorporated stone and brick and was considered one of the most impressive public buildings in Sydney at the time. It was designed for through trains to allow for future expansion of the railway network into the City. This was never realised however, and the restricted site was soon under pressure to cope with traffic levels well beyond its capacity.

Eventually, 13 platforms were incorporated into the second station. The goods yard and sheds to the east of the station added to the chaotic activity at the congested site which by the late 1890s was becoming acute, with 25 million passengers passing through the station in 1899. In addition, the increased length of the trains using the station was severely hampering its effectiveness, while its distance from the city centre required commuters to change to crowded trams for the remainder of their journey through the congested streets of the central business district.

Sydney's Central Station - the third and current 'Sydney' station

By 1900 the second Redfern Station was congested, dingy and wholly disliked by passengers and train crew alike. The situation was exacerbated by the entanglement of horse-drawn, tram and pedestrian traffic in the surrounding streets. Agitation for a new and vastly more efficient station was growing from both commuters and the Railway Commissioner. The question was: where to locate such a station?

Location, location, location

In 1888 Railway Commissioner Eddy asked the New South Wales Government if the terminal station could be moved closer to the City. Subsequently, a lengthy Royal Commission in 1891 recommended two stations: a terminal station at the Benevolent Asylum site to the north of Devonshire Street for long distance trains; and a station in Hyde Park facing King Street for suburban trains, with a branch to the eastern suburbs.

The 1890s Depression put a stop to any action being taken on new stations at this time. The subsequent Railway Commissioner made a strong request for a new station in 1896 and this led to yet another Royal Commission in 1896/97 on the City Railway. This Royal Commission concluded that having two separate terminal stations would be impractical, and recommended a single larger station at the Hyde Park site facing St James Road. However, with public opposition to the loss of parkland and with a change of government in 1899, the St James Road scheme was abandoned.

Interestingly, the first reference to Central Station appears to have come from an initial report of the Royal Commission into this scheme.

The abandoning of the St James Road scheme was much to the disappointment of the Railway Commissioner. In 1900, State Parliament accepted a compromise solution that was the brainchild of the then Minister for Public Works, E.W. O'Sullivan. He proposed that a new station be built just north of Devonshire Street, a stone's throw from the existing terminus.

However, to both commuters and the Railway Commissioner, it did not constitute a City railway extension.


Laying the foundation stone of Central Station's clock tower, 26 September 1903.W.L. Vernon, the New South Wales Government Architect in charge of design, and Henry Deane, Engineer in Chief of the New South Wales Government Railways, signed the completed plan for the new 15-platform steel framed and concrete station on 2 November 1901.

Property resumption needed to occur prior to the construction of the new station. This included the original depot for the first steam tramway, the Convent of the Good Samaritan, Benevolent Asylum, Police Barracks and other buildings. All were demolished. The Devonshire Street Cemetery's graves and headstones were relocated mainly to a new cemetery in Botany (Bunnerong) and others around Sydney.

Sheltering under an umbrella from a heavy downpour, Minister O'Sullivan laid the foundation stone on Central Station 30 April 1902; wielding the trowel around the 4.5-tonne block of Bowral trachyte, he promised the station would be one of the world's most handsome. Premier Sir John See took his share of the limelight in laying a second foundation stone at the base of the clock tower on 26 September 1903.

Pyrmont quarries supplied the sandstone for piers, ramps and walls; to face more than 2.5 kilometres of platforms, 3,800,000 bricks would be needed. Hand carved cedar surmounted the main doorways while stained glass windows ornately displayed the New South Wales Government Railway's insignia.

A large arched roof covered a main grand concourse housing heavy wooden booking offices and refreshment counters. A plan to continue similar roofing over all the tracks was discarded in favour of lesscostly individual platform awnings.

Central Station in 1906 when it was first opened. Interior view of the grand concourse of the new Central Station, c1907.Sydney's third terminal station was ready for opening on Saturday 4 August 1906. At 11.00am, Premier Carruthers turned a gold key in the booking office door, then unveiled a tablet on the colonnade wall.

The official first train to leave the new station left from platform 12 and made a special run to Parramatta.

As opened in 1906, the main sandstone building was only constructed to the ground floor or platform level. This left the domed roof in full view from the north, giving a most ungainly appearance.

The last train to leave the second Redfern Station departed at around midnight on 5 August 1906. Demolition commenced soon after.

Change for...

One of the first trams to use the new colonnade platform.When the new station was constructed, the Pitt and Castlereagh streets tramway loop was relocated so the trams could terminate in a colonnade across the front of the main concourse at platform level, providing a convenient means of transfer between the two transport modes. The trams approached the terminus by way of a ramp from the corner of Pitt and Hay streets.

The tramline to the colonnade ceased on 29 September 1957, however, in 1997 trams made a welcome comeback with the opening of the light rail line servicing Wentworth Park and later Lilyfield.

Railway Square was also a large tram interchange point being only a short walk from Central Station or through the Devonshire Street Tunnel. Today, Railway Square interchange is for buses.

In the early 1990s, a new coach terminal was incorporated into the basement level of Central Station facing both Eddy Avenue and Pitt Street. The coach terminal is still in use today.

Extensions and alterations

Many extensions and alterations have been made over the years, the following being some of the more notable:

The clock tower under construction in early 1921. Note that the two additional floors have been added and are almost complete.Two additional floors and the clock tower The floors of office accommodation and the clock tower are an integral part of the original design of the station. The station was actually built in two stages as an economy measure and to get the basic operating floors in place as quickly as possible to overcome problems at the Redfern station. Work on stage two, incorporating two additional floors and the clock tower, commenced in 1915 but wartime restrictions slowed construction considerably and these were not completed until 1921.

The foundation stone for the clock tower was laid on 26 September 1903 and the actual clock began operating at 10.22am on 3 March 1921.

The clock tower stands 85.6 metres above mean sea level and features four clock faces, each of which are 4.77 metres in diameter.

The railway yards at Central Station in 1924. Note the full 19 platforms are in use.Platforms 16 to 19 In 1914, four additional platforms were added at the same level as the previously opened platforms 1 to 15. These platforms would later be removed to make way for the new 'through' platforms to the City, which would be at a higher level.

The City Underground and Eastern Suburbs Railway On the opening day of Central Station, a Government spokesman pointed out that space had been reserved at the eastern side of the station for the extra tracks that might, one day, extend into the City. Twenty years later the prediction came true, which resulted in the building of the Central 'electric' platforms for the City Underground.

On 13 October 1915, New South Wales Government assent was given to the City and Suburban Electric Railway Act, 1915 to allow construction to commence on suburban electrification and an underground railway into the City.

The new electric railway on 3 October 1926. Note that the lowlevel platforms 16 to 19 are still in place, however the new high level platforms 20 to 23 are complete.Eight new suburban electrified platforms were to be built in place of platforms 16 to 19. The new 'high level' platforms would become platforms 16 to 23. Other features to be introduced at the same time would include a new ornate entrance at Elizabeth Street featuring four sandstone ionic columns and the new 'flyovers', known as 'flying junctions', constructed between the Cleveland Street bridge and Central Station.

Electric train services were extended into the City to Museum and St James stations from December 1926 and to Wynyard and the North Shore Line in March 1932.

A new underground line from Central to Bondi Junction, to be known as the Eastern Suburbs Railway, was opened on 23 June 1979 and later services were extended to the Illawarra Line via Redfern. Platforms 24 and 25 were constructed to service trains to and from Bondi Junction, the platforms are 12 metres below sea level.