||TRANSPORT & COMMUNICATIONS
THE NORTH SHORE RAILWAY
of the many thousands of commuters who use today's busy North Shore
Railway are aware of the origins and historical significance of this
line. It is a story of political intrigue that was only loosely
associated with the provision of reliable transport during its early
From the time the
government took over the Sydney Railway Company in 1853, railway
construction became a major political preoccupation, but the domination
of the legislature by rural interests ensured that railways were built
to serve country areas over city interests. Urban settlement on the
North Shore dates from 1836 when the township of St Leonards (now North
Sydney) was laid out. Ferry services linking residents on the northern
shore date from the 1830s and a ferry company (later Sydney Harbour
Ferries Limited) was founded in 1878. City dwellers living on the north
side of the harbour relied on ferries to travel to Circular Quay, but
as settlement extended further inland people found it difficult to get
to the ferry terminal over the rough tracks then available.
first local government on the North Shore was the Municipality of North
Willoughby (now the City of Willoughby) proclaimed on 23 October 1865.
Its politics was dominated by prominent landowners. They saw a railway
as an opportunity to subdivide their land for residential development
and by the 1870s the municipality was lobbying for construction of a
line from Hornsby facilitate 'development'. John Whitton, the Engineer
for New Lines and himself a North Shore resident, opposed the proposal,
claiming that a tramway would be adequate to carry the required traffic.
matter would have ended there, but for the fact that Henry Parkes - who
had served as Premier on four occasions - was again in financial
difficulty and saw an opportunity to address his problems and regain
his political ascendency by supporting the railway campaign of North
Shore landowners. Among the campaigners were former Premier
Alexander Stewart and Chatswood land developer Richard Haynes Harnett.
In the 1885 election Parkes successfully stood for the seat of St
Leonards against the incumbent and then Premier, George Dibbs. He
subsequently formed a government and arranged for his Minister for
Public Works, John Sutherland, to proclaim the new railway line from
Hornsby to St Leonards. Sutherland officiated at the ceremony to mark
the start of construction work on 1 July 1887.
St Leonards station in January 1890.
Town & Country Journal
Train timetable between Hornsby and
St Leonards 1890
(Note: click on this image for larger view)
Construction and early operations
serve the landholdings of prominent citizens the line transversed
rugged terrain that required sharp curves and steep grades. As the
economic boom of the 1880s subsided, austerity measures resulted in
simple timber station buildings, in most instances comprising just a
simple waiting shed.
Sydney's first true suburban railway, was formally opened on 1 January
1890, but the timetable provided for just four trains a day - two
passenger and two mixed trains; and none on Sunday.
the leading owner of land along the route to the Milsons Point ferry
terminal, Alexander Berry's son David, had opposed construction of the
railway, passengers continuing to the city had to rely on a horse-drawn
omnibus from the terminus at St Leonards
to the ferry. Parkes has appointed his business partner, Bruce Smith,
as Secretary for Public Works in 1889 following the death of
Sutherland. Smith gave priority to the extension of the line to Milsons
Point, but two inquiries were required to finalise the route and
approve the project. This section of the line opened on 1 May
1893. The timetable now provided for ten passengers trains daily, with
four on Sundays.
With the return
of economic prosperity on the 20th century, the railway stimulated
rapid residential development along its route. Five additional stations
were opened on the line between 1895 and 1900, including Artarmon on 6 July 1898.
Milsons Point railway station in the 1890s.
RailCorp collection, State Records NSW
Schoolchildren wait for their train
on Chatswood railway station in 1907.
Postcard, WDHS collection
Responding to traffic demand
rapid increase in traffic resulted in duplication of the North Shore
Line in 1912. The stations were rebuilt at this time, most of them with
the standard brick platform buildings that continue to make the line an
attractive feature today.
the North Shore Railway was primarily a passenger transport mode, it
also delivered materials to and transported the products from
industries and commercial enterprises along the line, with Chatswood
and St Leonards having busy goods yards.1
At Chatswood coal, wattle bark and hides was unloaded for transport to
the Willoughby's tanneries, while the municipality installed a siding
for the unloading of blue metal for its roadworks in the 1920s. The
goods yard at St Leonards linked with private sidings served the
Northern Suburbs Brick & Tile works and the Stewart & Lloyds
engineering works, while meat carcases, cement and gravel were also
received for local enterprises. Goods traffic declined in the 1980s and
ceased in the early 1990s.
The goods siding and receiving shed at
Chatswood station in 1910.
Willoughby City Library,
Local Studies collection
The northern approaches to the Sydney
Harbour Bridge in 1957 with trams in the
foreground and an electric train
on the western approach.
Ian Hellstrom photo, WDHS collection
Gordon railway station is one of the most intact
of the heritage listed buildings on the
Line. This photo taken
1 January 2012 shows the station,
with its early
open waiting shed on platform
RF McKillop photo.
The Bradfield Plan
North Shore Railway was an integral part of the revolution in Sydney's
transport system that occurred from 1915 under the direction of the
brilliant engineer John JC Bradfield. Parliament passed the City & Suburban Railways Bill
on 8 July 1915. Known as the 'Bradfield Plan' it was a bold
construction project to provide Sydney with a world-class transport
system to meet its needs over the next 50 years.
to construct a city underground loop and electrify the suburban railway
system commenced the following year, but the demands of the war effort
resulted in the project being suspended in June 1917. The Storey
Government approved recommencement of the suburban railway works and
the harbour Bridge in November 1920. Support for the project ebbed and
flowed with successive changes of government, with the first electric
trains operating to Oatley on 1 March 1926.2
works on the North Shore line commenced in June 1925. A new line was
constructed through tunnel from Waverton station to a new station at
North Sydney, with the first train to this station site arriving on 28
July 1928. Electric train services from Milsons Point commenced on 2
August 1927 and a full electric service operated from 27 October 1928.
With the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932, North
Shore residents finally had direct train services into the city that
directly connected with the remainder of the Sydney metropolitan system.
elements of Bradfield's grand plan were never implemented. On the North
Shore, earthworks for quadruplicating the line between Chatswood and
North Sydney were undertaken, but this section of track was never
completed. More significantly, the planned railway to Manly and the
Northern Beaches was a victim of the financial crisis of the 1930s.
Instead, the railway tracks on the eastern side of the Harbour Bridge
were utilised to extend the North Sydney tram system into underground
platforms at Wynyard station.
||Longworth, Jim, De-industrialisation of St Leonards. Australian Railway History, Vol 60: 858, April 2009, pp 115-125
||McKillop, Robert F, Ellsmore, Donald and Oakes, John, A Century of Central, Sydney's Central Railway Station 1906-2006, Sydney, ARHS/nsw 2007, pp 51-58