Changing Plans since 1916

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales

    In 1922 when work resumed on the Sydney City Railway the enforced hiatus of more than four years had resulted in a radically different and much better design replacing the 1915 plans. In many ways Sydney benefitted greatly from the delay.

    There are so many plans and proposals for the city railway, even limiting the choice to those by JJC Bradfield, that it is sometimes difficult to reconcile them.

Plan from Bradfield’s 1915 report.

    The plans for the city loop as presented by the chief engineer of the project in 1915 followed the commonly agreed concept with two stations under Hyde Park, and three others at the more or less fixed locations of Town Hall, Wynyard and Circular Quay. However, in this ‘first’ plan the loop under the city was a full circle around which trains could operate continuously. It was a kind of giant roundabout from which the several lines into the suburbs would be spokes.

    The existing railway system terminating at Central would be connected by four tracks joining the loop south of the city. The eastern suburbs would connect via a triangle junction under the Botanic Gardens and the Domain. The North Shore junction would be near Wynyard though it would deviate west in a loop to gain length so as to ease the grade on the climb to the Harbour Bridge. This line would bifurcate soon after leaving Wynyard to create another line into the Inner West suburbs with a high bridge over Darling Harbour. These lines cross soon after the junction and with both climbing to a bridge deck at the same height it is not obvious how this would have been achieved. Perhaps it was an at-grade crossing! Most of the stations appear to have bifurcated platforms. That is, consecutive arriving trains would alternate to different platforms. One train could be rolling to a stop while another was still stationary and loading. This is an ideal engineering solution in terms of passenger capacity and dwell times but is clearly expensive and was never built except perhaps at platforms 21/22 and 22/23 at Central.

    Plainly the operation of this system with all its junctions and conflicting train movements would have been very challenging and unlikely to be efficient or reliable. The construction of the complicated tunnel alignments with diverging and converging lines beneath streets and buildings would have been very difficult and expensive.

    Work actually began to this plan in 1916, though so little work was done that little evidence remains. The two City Circle tunnels, as they exist east of Circular Quay, are at different levels and this may be related to the construction of the proposed eastern suburbs triangle junction. Between Central and Goulburn-street where many properties were resumed and demolished very careful work was undertaken to modify buildings so that only the part needed to fit the four-track link to the circle was taken. These modified buildings did not survive long as the 1922 plan required six tracks and the whole building went.

    By 1917 almost all work ceased, and the only work continued was the bridge under Macquarie Street east of Circular Quay. The road had been partly closed to build one side of the bridge and then the other. Macquarie Street could not be left in this state indefinitely, so the work was finished, and the keystone of the bridge/tunnel portal proudly carried the words ‘City Railway 1918’.

Bradfield was not always kind to later researchers in that he did not date some plans, as this one. This MAY be the plan in force in 1922, however there is no East to West line. The East line terminates at St James. The West line, via tunnel, junctions near Wynyard, and the Mosman and North Shore lines merge at Wynyard.

    The years 1918 to 1922 were idle for Bradfield and his city railway and harbour bridge work but were spent profitably to create a completely new plan, which seems to have developed through several iterations. When work re-commenced there were no longer any junctions under the city, and therefore no need for the complicated tunnelling. All the switching of trains to different routes was done south of Central on a purpose built, open air, structure – the Flying Junctions. Once into Central the route of trains was fixed. Ahead of them was only plain tunnel. The North Shore line went across the bridge and nowhere else. The City Circle trains went around the city and nowhere else. The Eastern Suburbs and the Western Suburbs were opposite ends of a single route which entered and left the city independently of any other.

    Strictly speaking, there were to be connections, and they were built, between the East/West line and the City Circle at St James but these were probably only to allow rolling stock to be brought onto and taken off an otherwise isolated line. The Mosman/Manly/Narrabeen line, using the eastern side of the Harbour Bridge would have crossed through the city independently and into the south-eastern suburbs, perhaps the airport, and connected to the East Hills Line. Several of the stations had platforms for multiple lines but the interface was done by commuters walking, not by trains switching through junctions.

This plan shows Bradfield’s final design. It is dated May 1926 and by that date the line to St James was nearly open and the Harbour Bridge was committed with much work done. The Eastern Suburbs line through St James was largely built but is now abandoned. The Western Line platforms at Town Hall were built and are now the Eastern Suburbs Railway. The Mosman/Manly/Narrabeen line was built across the bridge as far as Wynyard but used for trams. Its underground platforms, (No 1 and No 2), are now abandoned. The Southern Suburban line was never built, though the 2000-built Airport line and the 2024-planned City Metro may be its descendants.
Bradfield's plan, above, colour coded for illustration. The red line is the Eastern to Western; the green line is the Narrabeen/Manly/Mosman to Southern Suburbs; the blue is the the North Shore line and the yellow line is the City Circle.

Bradfield's Eastern Suburbs, Western Suburbs, Southern Suburbs and Northern Beaches lines were never completed, even though a huge amount of work was done on them between 1922 and 1932. The only Bradfield era structures ever incorporated into later railways are the two spare platforms at Town Hall (No 4 and No 5) used for an Eastern Suburbs Railway by a completely different route.

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