Recent work to upgrade the train network’s power supply turned up an unexpected gem. Deep excavation for a cable tunnel at Chalmers Street was underway when workers discovered the footings of three wagon turntables.
Unsure of exactly what they’d found, they stopped work until a heritage specialist could inspect the unknown objects. To their surprise, the find turned out to be from the late 1800s, making the pieces some of the oldest railway infrastructure in Australia.
Railway historian, Bob McKillop, thinks they may be the only turntable footings of their type left in the country. Turntables became obsolete when points, the mechanisms that now guide trains from one track to another, were invented.
“The three early wagon turntables were built in the late 1860s or early 1870s for the Goods Shed that was constructed here on this site,” said Bob.
“The turntables enabled wagons to be transferred from one line to another, allowing goods to be unloaded or sent to another location on a different train line.
“Originally they would have been located in front of a goods shed. There would have been two tracks going into the shed, with the turntables having a flat timber structure lying on top of wrought iron and two rails.”
Environmental Manager, Megan Haberley, was brought in to run the heritage investigation and described it as a very exciting, yet delicate process to extract the artefacts.
“It took us around three months from first discovery, through archaeological recording, to their careful removal,” said Megan.
“We spent about six weeks going through and seeing what information we could find as we dug them out, and another month investigating the turntables and surrounding area.
“Finally we removed the footings brick by brick and took them to a safe storage facility. Now we’re looking for a suitable site around the Central Station precinct to reassemble and preserve them for public display.”
The work at Chalmers Street is part of the Power Supply Upgrade Program, which is designed to meet the power requirements for Sydney’s future rail network and new fleet of air conditioned trains.