Cable-Hauled Construction Railways.

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales


   Most civil engineering projects in the early twentieth century used light railways to make machinery mobile, or to move materials. On the Sydney Harbour Bridge there were numerous self-propelled railways on the ground and on the bridge structure. The focus of this article is the two cable-hauled railways which moved concrete materials, granite blocks and steel bridge components from the shorelines at Dawes Point and Milsons Point to the end of construction about 300 metres inland.

   These lines were operated by Dorman Long and Co as part of their contract which was for the main steel arch span, five approach spans at either end and the abutment towers. Beyond the Dorman Long and Co section the approaches were built by the NSW Public Works Department.

   Aggregate for concrete, for the Dorman Long & Co contract, was sourced from their granite quarry at Moruya on the coast south of Sydney. It was basically the crushed waste from the production of cut stone blocks for the facing of the abutment towers and approach span piers. The material was brought to Sydney by ship and unloaded at a wharf adjoining the work site. Sand was sourced from the Nepean River at Penrith and cement was obtained from the works at Kandos. These latter materials were brought to Sydney by rail, but exactly how they got to the bridge site has not been determined.

   All the steel members of the bridge were fabricated in a purpose-built factory immediately beside the bridge at Milsons Point. About two thirds of the steel came from Dorman Long and Co’s Middlesbrough (UK) steelworks by ship. It was unloaded at a wharf beside the workshops. The other third of the steel came from BHP Newcastle (NSW), also by ship. The workshops were adjacent to the end of the North Shore Railway at Lavender Bay and at one time there had been a siding past the station into the works area, but the Track and Signal diagram for the era of the bridge work does not show any siding in use.

   The steel sections were cut, drilled and assembled in the workshops which had at their eastern end a dock served by the building’s overhead travelling crane. Completed components were taken by barge, in the case of the main arch span, into the harbour, under the crane on the end of the bridge as it was built out and from there lifted into place. For the five southern approach spans the sections were taken by barge across to Dawes Point and landed by a 25-ton stiff-leg derrick crane. The same procedure probably happened with the northern - Milsons Point, approach spans, but there would seem to have been a removable bridge across the dock so some components of the bridge may have been moved from workshops to site without the intermediate water-borne step.

   Only one plan has been identified which gives any indication of the cable-hauled railways. It is a small part of the multi-page fold-out plan in the Institution of Civil Engineers Journal dedicated to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The mention of the railway is a very nominal one, which shows the southern one as straight, which it wasn’t, and only extending part way to the end of the work. Only the southern line is shown and the northern one is more or less included with the note: “Arrangements of Cranes and Timber Falsework for Erection Similar to that shown for Southern Approach.”

   Thus, the whole description of these lines is derived from close inspection of the many photographs of the work. More accurate details may emerge. The photographs also seem to indicate that there were several phases of use and disuse.

Plan of the Dawes Point light rail line, shown on the bridge approach centreline. It was actually closer to the western line of piers and for much of its life turned west between the pylon and the fourth pier and reached the shore west of the pylon and loading crane. Later, when it did run through the pylon there was a reverse curve from its general alignment to its path through the base of the abutment tower. ICE Journal 1934.
The existence of the Milsons Point line is only vaguely inferred by a note stating a similarity to the Dawes Point work. ICE Journal 1934.


The Dawes Point Line

Image 1. Looking towards the harbour there appear to be two lines intended for cable haulage directly behind where the abutment tower will rise. This is a very early phase of the bridge's construction. 11 February 1925. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 2. Looking away from the harbour. The stairs are a pre-existing structure. 11 February 1925. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 3. The upper end of the railway on the same day as image 2. Part of the route was near ground level but the last section was to be on high trestles above George Street North and York Street North. 11 February 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 4. Three weeks after image 1 the western line has been extended to near the shore and concrete bases for the 25-ton crane are in place. No further work is ever done on the eastern line and it seems to have been a miscarried plan. 2 March 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 5. At the harbour side a near level terminus for the railway has been constructed, but not completed as heavily curved rails are needed in the sag connection. 2 March 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 6. The day after image 5 a view of the upper end from above York Street North shows timber trestles under construction to carry the line over low ground and above the two city streets. To the right work is commencing on replacing an old smaller retaining wall with a much higher one, incorporating the piers for the approach spans. 3 March 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 7. Two weeks after image 6 and the plans have changed. the terminus is gone and machinery is being set up to excavate the abutment tower foundations and the deep skewbacks for the arch. The funicular railway will not pass this way for a couple of years. The skewbacks are four deep and wide concrete foundations which will each carry 20,000 tons of the steel arch's weight safely into the rock on both sides of the harbour. 16 March 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 8. A couple of material wagons are parked on the incline. Sleepers are disappearing from the abandoned eastern line. 16 March 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 9. The ceremony at Dawes Point to lay the foundation stone. The cutting and ramp to the right are the abandoned eastern line. 26 March 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 10. The trestle for the incline is advancing rapidly, stockpiles of timber are arriving for the funicular trestle and the high falsework upon which the steel trusses will be assembled. A Dorman Long and Co. Ltd. truck carries crushed granite aggregate. 1 April 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 11. At the lower end the 25-ton crane has appeared, but there is clearly no intention of extending the incline through the abutment tower excavation. 1 April 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 12. Falsework to support the steel trusses has been started. Note that it extends to the top of fill on the approach as a locomotive steam crane will have to be placed on the high trestle there to erect the falsework all the way to the harbour side. The bare rock space in the centre may be the base, and strong anchorage, of the funicular winding house. 17 April 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Figure 13. The two spoil wagons have not moved from their position in Image 8, while near them, workers are assembling pipework, perhaps for compressed air. 17 April 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 14. At the lower end of the once intended route of the railway a cliff has developed. Note at left near the crane the foundation stone of the bridge secured in a protective box. Later it will be moved to the abutment tower wall. 20 April 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 15. The bridge to carry the cable-hauled line as it rises above George Street North and York Street North. The locomotive crane is on the falsework and its route there from filled ground level has been dismantled. 20 May 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 16. The falsework and crane are the centrepiece of the photo, but the trestle for the incline is behind. 20 May 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 17. The same date as Image 16, but viewed from the opposite direction. 20 May 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 18. The trestling of the incline is being filled with excavated rock, perhaps to improve its stability. In the foreground another railway is set up to move the heavy baulks of timber for the falsework. 2 June 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 19. The grade of the incline as seen from Hickson Road. The large retaining wall was constructed by Dorman Long and Co, but under a separate contract from that of the Bridge 2 June 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 20. The two material trucks have been separated to allow the construction of a narrow gauge path for skips to cross the rail line. Note the motive power - two men - of the truck of spoil on the left. 5 June 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 21.The incline is complete with handrails and warning signs. In the foreground a wagon carries timber. 3 July 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 22. Another view on the same date as Image 21. 3 July 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 23. Wagons have been hauled onto the trestle over the streets, perhaps as a test. 3 July 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 24. The winding house for the funicular railway. 3 July 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 25. A view along the railway. The granite blocks at lower left would have been delivered along the line. 15 July 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 26. With clearly no route through the abutment tower excavations possible, how was the railway operating? The clue is at extreme top right. A deviation had been built to the west of the excavation, under the tree and in front of the building. 4 August 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 27. From the winding house looking north. Note the inclined boards on the sections over the roads as a precaution against spillages. 5 August 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 28. The excavation for the foundation of an approach pier with the railway above. 5 August 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 29. Material wagons near the top of the incline. They are perhaps dusted with the light coloured granite. The cranes on the falsework are building the stone and concrete piers. Later piers will be built in advance of the falsework using ground level stiff-leg derrick cranes. 2 October 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 30. The lower end of the incline. The ship would be carrying granite blocks and crushed aggregate from Moruya. 2 October 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 31.A tram passing beneath the railway in George Street North, while a horse-drawn wagon delivers sacks of cement. 4 November 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 32. A close up of the horse-drawn wagon. In 1925 cement was packed in bags of a hundredweight, or 112 pounds - 50 kilograms. 4 November 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 33. Aggregate from the harbourside dumped beside the railway and stockpiled for the concrete used in the Hickson Road retaining wall and the bridge piers. In the distance a crane is being set up on high timber towers for assembly of the steel approach trusses. 30 November 1925 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 34. Men at work clearing the material from the line to make space for more aggregate. In the foreground a post in the 'four-foot' suggests a guide for the cable, but just why it is at this location is not clear. 4 January 1926 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 35. The assembly crane for the trusses, the winding house for the railway and the spillage guards over the roadways. 29 January 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 36. Large volumes of aggregate hauled by the railway and stockpiled against it. 29 January 1926 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 37. The lower end of the railway on a bridge to the west of the skewback excavations. 22 April 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 38. The concrete batching process in 1926. The aggregate delivered by the railway is piled to the right and was wheeled to the mixer in hand-loaded barrows. Cement is stacked in bags beside the machine. Sand appears to have been tipped from a road truck just to the right of the cement. Mixed concrete is delivered by the railed skips at lower left. A wrecked skip is discarded at right. 29 January 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 39. The lower end of the railway. Aggregate from the Moruya quarry is stockpiled and the loading bucket is stored on the heap. A Dorman Long and Co tip truck possibly carries aggregate to sites not served by the railway. 3 May 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 40. The bridge on the railway to the west of the abutment tower. In the foreground are skips for lifting by crane hand-dug material out of excavations. 4 May 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 41. The railway passing the old buildings used as Dorman Long and Co's office during the construction of the bridge. Note the chute to dump material from the railway for the batching of concrete for the skewback. 6 October 1926 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 42. A view from the crane set up to build the abutment tower. This is the crucial area of the funicular railway. Junction points were installed to divert the line to the west, though the apparently thus far not used 'straight' route remained available. The haulage rope seems to sweep to the west around a pulley in the 'four-foot' and stout pillars beside the track. 2 September 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 43. Rail skips loaded with concrete aggregate at the harbour side. 2 June 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 44. The haulage rope was carried above the sleepers and the abrasive ground, by blocks. These appear to have been added since the original construction. 6 October 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 45. Although considerable engineering and effort had been invested in the original haulage way the next part of the delivery route was basic. Several shovels lie on the ground at the transfer area where the skips were dumped. Note the pulley to the right, enlarged in the adjacent photo. 6 October 1926 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 46. The roller which diverted the rope when the wagons turned towards the west. The installation seems to consist of a strong timber post set between the rails, lower than the axles of the skips, and on this was mounted a roller. 6 October 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 47. Lifting the first steel section for the approach trusses. It had been hauled from the harbour-side on the funicular railway. 28 October 1926 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 48. The junction point for the central and western lines. This was not a deviation but a set of operating points which could direct the descending wagon either way. Note the well-braced post between the two men at centre top and another in front of the man walking down. These would seem to support rollers to divert the haulage rope around the bend. The wagon would seem to be in a cutting at lower right. A pulley would seem to be on the 'straight' leg, on the four-foot just to the right of the sacks of material used as counterweight for the crane. This would suggest that both routes were in use at this time. 12 November 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 49. How the aggregate was moved from the railway to the concrete mixers. These carts werr known as 'tumbling tommies'. 30 December 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 50. The skewbacks have been completed and the abutment tower walls well above the level of the foreshore road. The 'straight' route for the funicular railway is carried on a bridge and through the tower. 30 December 1926 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 51. Erecting a top chord for approach span Number 1. The wagons on which it has been carried are visible on the track. A third line of trestling has been placed to hold the first half of the lower chord of the cross truss, pending its completion. 30 December 1926 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 52. The previously used western route of the railway is dismantled in this view. Railway stringers are stacked ready for transport on the railway. 11 February 1927 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 53. The upper section of the railway under the southern approach has no track though the work is far from finished. The stout braced posts to divert the pull of the cable to the western route are clearly seen. The 'straight' route is shown to include a reverse curve and thus explains the pulley in the 'four foot' as noted in Image 48. 11 March 1927 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 54. Despite the removed track in Image 53 in March, in May the railway is working again with railway stringers for the steel trusses at the top of this picture. The points are set for the straight. A road jinker is crossing the track, perhaps illustrating that devices other than the railway were used to move bridge components into reach of the assembly crane. 26 May 1927 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 55. Looking north from the erected truss the reverse curve in the 'straight' route is revealed. The track is blocked by stacked sacks at the abutment tower wall. 28 June 1927 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 56. There is five month gap in the available photos in the second half of 1927. The abutment tower has advanced greatly, but a passage way for the railway has been created through it. The bearings for the arch are in place and the fifth approach span is nearing the abutment tower. 8 November 1927 SARA NRS 12685
Image 57. An aerial view with the tower complete to deck level, but the railway is still in place and the access through the concrete wall still available, though it may not be in use. 1928 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 58. A close up view of the aerial photograph. 1928 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 59. In March 1928 the upper section of the funicular railway is largely dismantled. 1 March 1928 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 60. In March 1928 the upper section of the funicular railway is largely dismantled. 1 March 1928 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 61. Though presumably not operational, as the upper sections of the route including the winding house have been dismantled, the gap in the tower remains and the trestling near the harbour is still in place. 16 May 1928 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 62. Viewed from the opposite side of the harbour the gap in the southern tower is still there in June 1928. 22 June 1928 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 63. In July 1928 the steel ramps which will allow the erection crane for the main arch to leave the abutment tower deck and get on to the arch are ready, but the passageway for the railway and the trestle bridge are still in place. The ramp for the vehicular ferry to the North Shore is in the foreground. 23 July 1928 SARA NRS 12685.


Image 64. The inner concrete shell of the abutment tower has been sealed but the granite blocks of the outer layer are yet to be placed. 21 August 1928 SARA NRS 12685.



The Milsons Point Line

   The northern cable-hauled railway had a much simpler history than its southern counterpart. Lessons may have been learned from the operation of the Dawes Point line. Dorman Long and Co's method of working was always to undertake the northern work a few months behind the southern side. This enabled lessons learned in the first instance to be applied to the re-run of the same process, as well as enabling the one set of equipment and falsework to be re-used.

   The northern work was a much simpler task as there was no large retaining wall, as at Hickson Road, to be built and the upper end of the railway followed the ground surface rather than terminating in the elaborate bridges over two busy city streets in the south.

   The Milsons Point funicular only ever ran along one route but there does seem to have been a period where it was out of use.

Image 65. Work began on the northern approach spans in the second half of 1925. Looking north, there is no suggestion in September of any work on a funicular railway. The timer structures to left and right are falsework which will support the steel approach trusses as they are assembled, until they become self -supporting. 3 September 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 66. Looking south at the same date as Image 65, but again no evidence of a railway. 3 September 1925. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 67. Looking north a month after Image 65 and a railway has been constructed. 1 October 1925. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 68. Looking south on the same date as Image 67, a railway can be seen. The counterweights used for stiff leg derrick cranes seem to use whatever heavy objects are at hand. This installation is perhaps pig iron. Was this specially brought from Middlesborough by Dorman Long and Co? 1 October 1925. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 69. By November the winding house has been installed and material wagons are on the line. 3 November 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 70. Looking north on the same date as Image 69. The northern railway, in the centre, was a much less elaborate project than its southern counterpart. 3 November 1925. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 71. The photographer seems to have adopted the practice of taking the same shots at the beginning of each month. The cable-hauled railway may be in place but could be idle as the wagons may be the same as the month before. 2 December 1925 SARA NRS 12685.
Image 72. A view to the east over the passenger ferry wharves and depot. This photo does show the railway in the foreground but also illustrates the large ferry fleet which operated across the harbour. A barge carrying some sort of earth is near the wharf. 7 January 1926. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 73. Another month has passed, but it could be guessed that nothing has moved on the railway. 7 January 1926. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 74. The harbourside end of the railway. There would appear to have been only ever been one terminus, about in the centre of the abutment tower works. There is a stockpile of granite aggregate but no evidence that it has being transported by the railway. 1 February 1926. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 75. Again the first of the month. The excavation for the skewback is advancing. The railway line exiting the frame to the right extends to the Milsons Point workshops.1 February 1926. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 76. A locomotive crane is using the inferred terminus of the cable-hauled railway as part of the gear making excavations for the skewback. 2 March 1926. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 77. Early in July 1926 the skewback work is progressing but the scene could be the same as any month before. 4 July 1926. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 78. The upper end of the railway in May 1926. On the right is the winding house and material skips. 5 May 1926. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 79. In June there is every indication that while work is proceeding on the concrete and stone piers for the approaches the route of the railway is not being kept clear. 6 July 1926. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 80. A very small section of the previous photo shows two granite blocks being transported by a truck. Was this the normal means of transport from wharf to site of use at Milsons Point? 6 July 1926. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 81. There is every indication that the line is blocked and out of use. 3 August 1926. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 82. In the distance the line appears to be covered in some sort of road base. 6 October 1926. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 83. Cranes are building the piers using concrete from a batching plant astride the cable-hauled line. 6 October 1926. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 84. The spoil wagons may be still in the same position as they were placed when the plant was first set up nearly a year before. 9 October 1926. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 85. There is no clear path for the railway. 12 November 1926. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 86. Some effort seems to have been expended to clear the route, but it is still blocked by stacked materials. 31 December 1926. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 87. At the northern end of the work the crane is positioned on high towers, ready to commence erection of the steel approach trusses, and the railway route seems clear. 26 May 1927. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 88. There is no evidence that the spoil wagons at the right have moved in more than a year. 26 May 1927. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 89. The first section of the Number 6 approach truss is being hauled up the cable railway. Although built 18 months earlier this may be its first use. 16 June 1927. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 90. The first steel section of the Number 6 approach truss at the top of the incline. 16 June 1927. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 91. The first steel section of the Number 6 approach truss being lifted from the railway wagons. 16 June 1927. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 92. The first steel section of the Number 6 approach truss in place on its bearing. John Bradfield and other notables are standing on the top of the pier. 16 June 1927. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 93. Construction of the approach spans is well advanced, and the railway remains in use. 13 September 1927. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 94. The railway remains in use, looking south. 13 September 1927. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 95. The route of the railway looking south. 7 October 1927. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 96. A small section of the previous photo, Image 95, showing the route through the abutment tower area to the trestle and the harbour side terminus. 7 October 1927. SARA NRS 12685.


Image 97. The funicular railway was used to haul steel components for all of the approach spans. The carriage is shown empty at the bottom edge of the photo. 16 December 1927. SARA NRS 12685.
Image 98. Nearly a year later the abutment tower has nearly reached deck level. The route for the railway is visible as a gap in the front wall. The photo is taken from the opposite tower. The dark object to the right is the end post of the southern half arch and the crane boom is that of the floating crane Titan which landed heavy sections from barges to within the reach of the creeper crane, at that stage well back on the floor of the abutment tower. 6 November 1928. SARA NRS 12685.


The winches for the cable-hauled railways were long out of use by the time that the main arch span was complete, but they were re-commissioned to haul the 128 1200ft long tie-back cables from the anchorage tunnels on the respective sides of the harbour, and to coil them ready for despatch to Middlesborough for re-use or sale.

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