Central Station: past, present and future

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Central Station 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 operated railway yard in Australia. So from steam to electric, exhuming buried bodies and even flying bullets, Central has seen more than your average train station. The timeline below examines Central’s history from the inception of passenger railway in Sydney in 1855.

First & Second Sydney Station (1855-1906)

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.

Credit NSW State Archives

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 second station was built out of brick and stone and 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 struggled to service 25 million passenger visits.

Central Station (1906)

The first foundation stone of the sandstone structure we know today was laid by Minister for Public Works, E.W. O’Sullivan in 1902. But before this could happen, land to the north of Devonshire St had to be acquired for the redevelopment, including a cemetery full of bodies that needed to be exhumed and reburied in different locations.

Credit NSW State Archives

Government Architect W.L. Vernon designed Central as a neo-classical 15 platform station, with the aim of exemplifying the importance of rail through its grand presence in the urban landscape. On 4 August 1906, Premier Carruthers officially opened the Central Station by turning a gold key in Central’s booking office. The first official train left that day from Platform 12 on a special run to Parramatta.

Main Concourse (1906 – today)

Credit NSW State Archives

The backbone of Vernon’s design has remained and had many different looks through the years since 1906. From soda fountains in the 20s, to newsagents in the 50s and bright orange chairs in the 80s, through to how it greets customers today on the eve of renovation. The main concourse’s original indicator board from 1906 can be visited today in the Powerhouse Museum.

Battle of Central Station (1916)

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 rioting to protest training camp conditions were met by military police as they tried to commandeer trains. The military police met the troops with gunfire and killed one rioter before subduing the rest.

Clocktower came into use (1921)

Credit NSW State Archives

Construction started in 1915 on Central’s clocktower, which due to World War I constrictions was not completed until 1921. The clocktower reaches 85.6m above street level, has four faces, each 4.77m in diameter, with minute hands 2.1m long and takes 272 steps to access. The clocktower was switched on at 10.22am on 3 March 1921.

Switch to electric and added suburban platforms (1926-32)

During the 1920s, Dr John J.C. Bradfield implemented his visionary plan to provide Sydney with a world-class electric railway system. The first electric trains commenced 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.

Credit NSW State Archives

Eastern Suburbs Railway

Part of Bradfield’s electric network plan was expanding to the eastern suburbs. After a few different plans and series of seperate constructions in different areas, the line was eventually opened with new platforms (24 & 25) at Central in 1979.

Ghost Platforms

Initially the Eastern Suburbs Railway was designed to function with 4 platforms out of Central. At the time of completion only 2 were used, however the additional 2 platforms had already been constructed. They sit, unused beneath Central Station and are referred to as the ‘ghost platforms’


More than 270,000 people use Central Station daily, with that number expected to rise to 450,000 in the next two decades. So with new contracts awarded, work is set to begin on building the new Sydney Metro underground platforms at Sydney Central Station.

It’s one of the most significant upgrades to the station in recent years. With Central Station as the gateway to our great city, we are working to develop a station that blends heritage with innovative design on par with other grand stations around the world to take us into the future.


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