27 June 2014: Sydney’s Ghost Railway

Like many major world cities, underground Sydney is crisscrossed with tunnels of all kinds.  Most are in use carrying water, sewers, people, cars and trains but some have long been abandoned or never used.

Some of the best belong to Sydney’s railways: abandoned and never completed bits of infrastructure, built in the time when railway engineers had grand plans.  Of these, the most impressive are those at Central and St James Stations, built as part of the Eastern Suburbs Railway (ESR) in the 1940s and the City Circle in the 1930s.

The Central Station tunnels are located above the existing ESR line.  Known as Ghost Platform 26 and 27, these were built between 1947 and 1952 as part of the first work on the ESR and a proposed southern suburban line.  When work was stopped in 1952 the platforms and stub tunnels (extending about 30m each end of the platforms) were complete.

However, when the work restarted in the 1960s, it was decided not to proceed with the southern suburban line, so the platforms were left as they were, half finished.  Two other tunnels and platforms were also constructed at Redfern Station as part of the same system and also left uncompleted.

If you get the ESR at Central you may notice the escalator is a long ride down.  This is because you are passing the ghost platforms on the way down.  There have been some plans to use them for other lines, such as a Very Fast train to Melbourne or even for other suburban extensions, but nothing yet.

At St James the same thing happened, but this time as part of Bradfields’ original underground and suburban railway concept.  Due to the complexity of building the underground system and the disruption it caused, a number of extra tunnels for proposed future lines were also constructed in the 1930s.  A double track tunnel was constructed between the lines of the existing city circle to take a Gladesville line, with a platform extension, tiled and fitted out in the same colours as St James Station.  This is why the concourse is so wide at St James; there was supposed to be two more lines here.

4 unfinished tunnels at St James, Jan 1925.  The middle 2  are the ghosts. (Subterranean Sydney, Brian & Barbara Kennedy)

4 unfinished tunnels at St James, Jan 1925. The middle 2 are the ghosts. (Subterranean Sydney, Brian & Barbara Kennedy)

But before they were completed World War II intervened, and in the panic and fear of potential air raids the disused tunnels were converted as public air raid shelters on the southern end and as military air raid shelters and operational command posts in the northern end towards circular Quay (the Circular Quay link was not completed until the 1950s).

The public air raid shelter was entered via Hyde Park, down steep stairs to the concrete bunkers below.  At the end of the war the entrance was sealed up and the bunkers largely forgotten.  But they are still there beneath the park.  The military shelter was removed entirely to allow for the trains to run on the completed city circle.  However one of the other northern extensions remains unused and over the years has slowly filled with water seeping through the ground above.  The water has collected as the fabled St James Lake, a dark, cold underground lake extending below the city streets.

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1 Comment

Filed under History

One response to “27 June 2014: Sydney’s Ghost Railway

  1. Bill

    Me and a mate went into that tunnel named the St James Lake, back in 1988 when a good pair of gumboots was enough to keep the water at bay. In those days it was only the first 30 feet or so at the entrance that was under water, the rest of the way was damp but dry enough for a pair of sandshoes.
    I still remember it vividly. Spooky fun for a couple of insomniacs ;-)

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