Central Station in Sydney has been developed and redeveloped to meet passenger demands as they have grown and changed over the last 150 years. Still sitting on its original site, it’s the oldest and longest continuously operating railway yard in Australia. From steam to electric, exhumed buried bodies and even flying bullets, Central has seen more than your average train station. Let’s take a look at this icon over the years, from its inception in 1855 right through to the exciting plans for its future.
A tin shed in a paddock
The first iteration of Central Station was a tin shed erected in an area known as Cleveland Paddock in 1855. The 30m long single platform was bordered by Devonshire and Cleveland Streets and known to passengers at the time as Redfern Station. From here, trains ran to Parramatta powered by steam.
Passenger demand and the growing railway network soon outgrew the capacity of the single platform and in 1874, a new station opened on the original site. This station was built out of brick and stone and was designed for future expansion by Railways Chief Engineer John Whitton (also known as the ‘father of the railways’). By 1899, up to 13 platforms had been added but the infrastructure still struggled to service the growing number of passengers.
The first foundation of the sandstone structure we know today was laid by the Minister for Public Works, E.W. O’Sullivan in 1902. But before this could happen, land to the north of Devonshire Street had to be acquired for the redevelopment, including a cemetery full of bodies that needed to be exhumed and reburied in different locations.
Government Architect W.L. Vernon designed Central as a neo-classical 15 platform station, with the aim of showcasing the importance of rail through its grand presence in the urban landscape. On 4 August 1906, Premier Carruthers officially opened Central Station by turning a gold key in Central’s booking office. The first train left that day from Platform 12 on a special run to Parramatta.
The Grand Concourse
Vernon’s grand design has remained but has had many different looks through the years since 1906. From soda fountains in the 20s, to newsagents in the 50s, bright orange chairs in the 80s, through to the eve of a massive renovation today. The main concourse’s original indicator board from 1906 can still be seen today in the Powerhouse Museum.
Riot at Central
A bullet hole can still be found in a section of sandstone on Central’s main concourse, on the way to Platform 1. It remains from 1916 when it is believed up to 15,000 troops rioted in protest against their training camp conditions. They tried to commandeer trains and clashed with military police. The military police fired their guns and killed one rioter before subduing the rest.
Tick tock, an iconic clock
Construction started in 1915 on Central’s clocktower which, due to World War I restrictions, was not completed until 1921. The clocktower reaches 85.6m above street level, has four faces, each 4.77m in diameter with hands 2.1m long. It takes 272 steps to access the clock and it was switched on at 10:22am on 3 March 1921.
Switch to electric
During the 1920s, John Bradfield implemented his visionary plan to give Sydney a world-class electric railway system. The first electric trains started running on the Illawarra Line in June 1926. For Central, this meant construction of additional infrastructure and platforms. Suburban Platforms 16-23 and their tiled, connecting tunnels were built to incorporate electric rail.
The ghost platforms
Part of Bradfield’s network plan included expanding to the Eastern Suburbs. After a few different plans and a series of separate constructions in different areas, the line was eventually opened with new platforms (24 & 25) at Central in 1979. Initially the Eastern Suburbs Railway was designed to function with four platforms. At the time of opening only two were needed, however the additional two platforms had already been constructed. They still sit unused and are referred to today as the ghost platforms. Spooky!
An exciting future
More than 270,000 people use Central Station every day, with that number expected to rise to 450,000 in the next two decades. So we’re getting to work on one of the most significant upgrades to the station in recent years. Imagine a large and light underground concourse that connects with Sydney Metro services, along with beautiful open entrances, simpler interchanges, new escalators, and more. As the gateway to a great city, we’re developing a station that blends heritage with innovative design on par with other grand stations around the world, with the Sydney Metro upgrade contract complete and new Central Walk to be open to customers by 2022.