Central Station - self guided tour

Start your tour at the NSW TrainLink travel centre near platform 1.

Location no. 1

Walk towards platform 1.

This platform has also always been the 'special services' platform: the place where the Governor set off in his own carriage to the Governor's Residence in Sutton Forest and where General Macarthur arrived in World War II.

Central Station
Central Station

Platform 1 is also a symbol of the hard work that is associated with running the railways. There is a goods lift about half way along this platform. This lift would take workers into another world where thousands of different kinds of parcels were handled every day - coffins, dogs and cats, furniture, postal packages all being sent around the City and New South Wales.

You will notice a series of numbers in black on yellow on the awning piers. These numbers mark the distance in metres you are from the buffers at the end of platform 1. At BO005 read the plaque dated 23 February 1970 which commemorates the start of the Indian Pacific train service.

There are many New South Wales families who have a tradition of 'working on the railways'. Commissioner McCusker, whose name is on this plaque, came from such a family. His father had risen to be Station Master and retired after 50 years' service. Commissioner McCusker started as a junior porter at Byrock to rise to the top over 49 years of service. He was credited with making Sydney's railways the first in the world to have a fleet of double-deck carriages.

Location no. 2:

Walk to the southern end of platforms 2/3.

This is close to the location of the original terminals, the first opened in 1855 and the second in 1874. The third station was opened in 1906 and is the one you see today. At BO187 you are standing on top of the Devonshire Street Tunnel, which used to be the street at the front of the earlier stations.

Artist's impression of Sydney Terminal
Artist's impression of "Sydney Terminal" in 1855. This is the original Central station. If you look into the distance of this drawing and look south yourself, you will see the same Cleveland St cutting and the Church spire to its left.

Mortuary Station, the sandstone, architect-designed building whose spire and dome you can see to your right served the funeral train service between Sydney Central and Rookwood between 1867 and 1948.

On the first day of rail - 26 September 1855 - 750 first class tickets at 4 shillings each were sold for the run between Parramatta and Sydney. There were no ticket barriers and there were no platform indicators.

The second Sydney Terminal
The second "Sydney Terminal". It had a mean and ugly appearance which was on account of the numerous additions of different periods and various cheap materials.

This third station was built in stages. The design was completed at the end of 1901. Eleven stone masons commenced work on 7 August 1902 and work gangs demolished the platforms of the old Sydney station as the new ones were built. Platforms 1 - 15 and the first two floors of the new station were opened by the Premier and Minister for Transport, in August 1906. The clock tower and top two floors were completed in 1921 and the electric platforms (16 - 23) and electric suburban rail network opened in 1926.

Location no. 3

Return to the grand concourse and out the western archway on your left.

Walk to the garden to the left of the archway. You will notice a small memorial to Donna, the hearing guide dog. This is a good vantage point to view the change in building material types reflecting the different status of people and workers who used the different sections of the building.

To the right of the clock tower you will notice the threestorey sandstone buildings (with marble interiors) and beautifully designed facades. These were added to the main station building in 1921.

The clock tower is 75 metres high from road level. There are 302 steps to the clock faces. Look closely and you can see the stairs going up to the clock faces inside the clock tower and the New South Wales Government Railways crest sculpted in stone. The clock tower was also added in 1921.

Keep looking to your right and you will notice that the buildings have been built using brick. This is platform 1 with the old parcel handling area underneath. Finally, if you look to the end of the buildings, you will notice a large corrugated iron shed. Now Youth Hostels Australia accommodation, this shed used to be part of the Parcel Post Office.

Look for the archway about halfway along the outside of platform 1. This was the Governor's Archway and if you look closely at the top you can still see the gas light fitting where the Governor's coach would stop. The Governor could then go directly from his coach or car to his train carriage on platform 1.

Location no. 4

Walk to the end of the garden pathway.

Concern for safety has always been an important part of railway life. When the first train service began in 1855, every engineman, fireman, guard, gatekeeper, pointsman, policemen and platelayer was required to sign the last page of his 'Rule Book', agreeing to observe and obey the rules.

Lower Carriage Lane formerly Ambulance Avenue (below the side of the old Post Office building, which is now the Medina Apartments Hotel) is an example of the railway industry's earliest commitment to safety. The horse-drawn 1880s ambulances were a railway service and in the 1920s and 1930s when motorised ambulances were first introduced, many of the volunteer ambulance drivers were often off-duty railway men.

Location no. 5

Return through the main archway to the main concourse and John Whitton's memorial at the entrance to the tram tunnel on your left.

The grand concourse area has been changed, renovated and 'remodelled' throughout its history. Its original desig design had pedestrians moving in a north-south direction, as people arrived on their train and walked through these archways to catch the tram uptown. In the 1920s, platforms 16 to 19 were taken over for the new electric trains and people then needed to walk east-west from the country to the suburban platforms.

Interior of Governor's carriage
Interior of Governor's carriage.

The old country concourse indicator boards
The old grand concourse indicator board - just before it was moved to the Powerhouse Museum in the 1980s where it can still be viewed today.

Location no. 6

Walk east towards the Bake House café area at the north eastern end of the grand concourse and along the way notice the beautiful stained glass windows of the station's original booking office. In August 2006, this room was reopened after being closed for many years. It has been faithfully restored and given a new function as offices and exhibition space.

interstate booking office in 1950
The interstate booking office when it opened in the 1950s. Look for the inlaid map on the floor, including Australia's state crests and the murals around the top of the walls. This area is now the Bake House café.

Location no. 7

Go through the archway to the light rail stop.

Central Station has always been a hub for a variety of transport modes.

The 1901 loopline was in an anti-clockwise direction from Pitt St, along the Central colonnade (where you are now standing), along Castlereagh St to Circular Quay and back south along Pitt St. This is opposite to the direction that the current light rail system uses.

Trams were also used to prepare for the construction of the current Central Station. The Botany tramline was extended in March 1901 to take remains from the Devonshire St cemetery to Bunnerong cemetery, because the land was needed for the construction of the new station. Light rail was introduced to Central Station in August 1997. Light rail is a modern version of the traditional tram and currently extends from Central to the inner west.

original colonnade area in 1925
View of trams entering the original colonnade area before the clock tower and the second and third floors of the Central office building were constructed and opened in 1925. These new offices were built for the chief traffic manager whose job was to manage the movement of trains around the system. The network control room is still located in this building.

Location no. 8

Turn right and follow the edge of building outside and around the corner towards the suburban platforms.

The official name for platforms 1-19 was Sydney Terminal. Once the "electric" platforms and the City Circle were opened, Central Station became its common name.

Work began on the City Underground railway in 1916 but stopped in 1918. Work resumed in 1922 and the first electric train ran from Central Station to Oatley Station in March 1926 and to St James Station in the City in December 1926.

Notice the maze of train lines ahead of you and to your left. Compare this with the photo showing the construction of the City Underground railway.

view on Central Station from Elizabeth Street
View from Elizabeth St during construction of the electric platforms.

Location no. 9

Take the escalator down to the suburban platforms concourse and walk east, following the line of the platform entrances and turn left to exit from the station into Elizabeth Street.

photo from the new Elizabeth Street entrance in 1926
When this photo was taken at the new Elizabeth Street entrance in 1926, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was taking shape and Dr John Bradfield (centre) was realising his plan for a City Underground railway.

Location no. 10

Walk outside the entrance at Elizabeth Street and look right along Chalmers Street. You are now standing just north of the deep excavation for platforms 24 and 25 which are used for the Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line.

The excavation was so deep that two additional platforms (26 and 27) were added on top of 24 and 25 for possible future use but remain hidden there today with no interconnecting tunnel.

Excavation of Eastern Suburbs platforms
Excavation of Eastern Suburbs platforms in the early 1950's. Boring commenced in 1947 and Chalmers St was closed to traffic. Excavation was 30% complete by 1952 but the site was closed down until 1967.

Location no. 11

Walk around the corner to your left under the Eddy Avenue viaduct. Trams originally used the middle arch. Stop at the coach terminal end of the arch.

To your left, the buildings are a different colour sandstone to the lower sections of the Central Station main building (to your right) which was built from sandstone quarried at Pyrmont. The upper sections are different sandstone again.

To your right you will also notice a plaque installed to remember the soldiers of World War 1. They would travel from here to Darling Harbour where the troop ships were loaded.

At the time, there were 45,000 railway men and 8,500 of these enlisted. More than 1,200 were killed. Many of them operated trains in Europe, which took them to the front line.

Location no. 12

Walk beneath the colonnade to the corner of Eddy Avenue and Pitt Street.

On your left you will notice a plaque at the base of one of the sandstone pillars, which commemorates the 1902 completion of the foundations for the new station. This foundation stone weighed 4.5 tons, was quarried at Bowral in the southern highlands of New South Wales and brought by rail to Central Station. It cost 30 pounds sterling.

Railway Commissioner Eddy died in 1898. Rawson Street, named after Governor Rawson, was cut off at Pitt Street (where you are now standing) and the remainder of the street from Pitt Street eastwards to Elizabeth Street, became Eddy Avenue in honour of the Commissioner.

Location no. 13

Travel up the escalators and walk west of the station. End your tour at the western entrance to the grand concourse.

You will notice two plaques on the base of the clock tower close to the taxi rank. Governor Rawson is commemorating the opening of the new station on one plaque and the politicians of the day are doing the same on the other plaque! Close by you can also see the Commissioner's Entrance to the main building. Look closely through the glass door and you may even be able to see the ornate marble staircase.

Main concourse looking east 1906.
The grand concourse looking west in 1906.