What happened before 1922?

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales


    The railway which JJC Bradfield commenced to build under the city in 1916 was not the railway ‘completed’ in 1932. Perhaps fortunately, in the hiatus when work stopped between 1917 and 1922, he made a major re-design. In the earlier plan the loop under the city would have been a complete circle, with trains entering it and branching off it to the bridge, the rest of the network through the existing terminal station, to the east and the west. The operation of such a complex roundabout for trains would have been a difficult task and the construction of the junctions in tunnels very challenging.

    The revised plan relocated all the junctions to an open-air location south of Central Station – the so-called ‘Flying Junctions’. All of the routes through the city would be straight through except for some interchange between the East-West line and the City Circle at St James.

    Thus in 1916 only four tracks were planned between Central and the Goulburn Street tunnel portals, and so only half of the relevant city blocks between Hay Street and Goulburn Street were resumed, and the buildings demolished. The 1906 tram route from the colonnade of Sydney Terminal Station to Castlereagh Street traversed Belmore Park on a wider arc than it does now and almost reached Elizabeth Street – under what would be the embankment for the new railway – so it was moved to its modern location and the eastern part of Belmore Park fenced as a construction site.

    In Hyde Park the Museum Station site was claimed by hoardings though little work was done. The tunnels between Museum and St James were to be built by mining techniques and work compounds and engines were erected in the park to service the shafts to reach the tunnels. For a more detailed account of work in 1916 see that adjacent page William Stronach Thom - the Engineer who might have built the City Railway.

    The focus of the 1916 work was between St James and Circular Quay in a wide arc through the Botanic Gardens, around the Conservatorium of Music and across the driveway to Government House. All of the work was cut and cover, except for driven tunnels under the road into the vice-regal residence. With the excavation being almost totally in sandstone steam-driven percussive machines mounted on rails were used to chisel a slot along the line of the walls of the tunnels, thus freeing the central mass of sandstone for easier removal.

    At Macquarie Street the tunnels were just below road level, so a bridge was constructed in two stages. The partial blockage of this important street was deemed so disruptive that work was carried through to complete the bridge even when all other work stopped in 1917.

    By 1917, the demands of the Great War for funds and resources forced the City Railway project to be abandoned. The blind cuttings in the Botanic Gardens soon flooded and the site was not re-opened until several years after the line through Museum to St James was open and the tunnels for the line through Town Hall and Wynyard to the Sydney Harbour Bridge were structurally complete. Even though the 1916-commenced tunnels between St James and Circular Quay were physically complete by the mid-1930s, no passenger carrying trains ran through them until 1956.

Pre 1922 Photo 1, 17 November 1916
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010004

    In the early stages, for the open-air part of the railway between Central Station and the tunnel portal, only half of the buildings between Castlereagh Street and Elizabeth Street were resumed. The right-hand part of the ‘Residential Chambers’ building has been blanked off with an inserted wall. The left-hand part will be demolished. In the distance is the Mark Foy's building which will remain with the tunnels driven under it. A later change in plans needed more width so all the buildings were cleared.

Pre 1922 Photo 2, 17 November 1916
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010005

    The site of Museum Station, at the time known as Liverpool Street Station at the corner of Elizabeth Street. Little more than the erection of hoardings was done in the first phase of the work. An elevated tramway signal box controls the movement of trams through the busy intersection. 17 November 1916

Pre 1922 Photo 3, 17 November 1916
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010032

    The street in the foreground is Macquarie Street and it is half fenced off as a worksite for the erection of a bridge beneath it. Excavation through the parkland behind will allow the building of brick-lined tunnels before the park is replaced. The road in the distance is the drive into Government House. It will have tunnels driven beneath it rather than be open-cut.

Pre 1922 Photo 4, 10 January 1917
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010046

    Work behind the Conservatorium of Music through the Gardens. At first work proceeded slowly as only hand tools were available and little more than excavation of the loose soil could be accomplished.

Pre 1922 Photo 5, 8 March 1917
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010090

    Many of the contemporary captions for these photos note the impending arrival of the ‘chiselling machines’. These were steam powered percussive machines running on rails which cut a neat slot along the alignment of both walls of the future tunnel and thus freed the central mass of rock for easier removal. Spoil is loaded by hand into bins which are man-propelled along tracks to within reach of small cranes which lifted them onto light trucks for disposal.

Pre 1922 Photo 6, 19 April 1917
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010017

    Belmore Park extended to Elizabeth Street and the eastern part was claimed for a high embankment. The site was fenced off in 1916 but little work was done.

Pre 1922 Photo 7, 8 May 1917
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010130

    Tunnels under Hyde Park were driven from shafts and to power the work steam engines were erected in the park to drive air-compressors. No photographs exist which show any actual progress in the construction of the shafts or tunnels at this time.

Pre 1922 Photo 8, 27 June 1917
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010158

    Once the project was abandoned and the site locked up in 1917 the minor excavations at Liverpool Street Station flooded and were left in this state until 1922.

Pre 1922 Photo 9, 21 September 1917
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010158

    By the time work ceased considerable progress had been made through the Botanic Gardens, but the abandoned cuttings soon flooded. Work would not resume here until the late 1920s. It is believed that these post-abandonment photos were taken by engineer Bob Wylie as part of his task to document the work so that a financial settlement could be made with Norton Griffiths, the English firm who had been contracted to finance and construct railways all over NSW. Wylie went on to have a role in heritage aspects of the NSW Railways.

Pre 1922 Photo 10, 21 September 1917
Source: SARA NSW NRS 16669-010158

    Looking west towards Circular Quay from the Gardens. The tunnel under Government House Drive was well under way when abandonment came. Work was still proceeding on this section in 1929 for two men were reported killed in a rock fall in the tunnel.

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