No1 Mortuary Railway station, Rookwood Cemetery - funeral train in station c1870 Pic: State Records New South Wales (17420_a014_a014000306)

No1 Mortuary Railway station, Rookwood Cemetery – funeral train in station c1870 Pic: State Records New South Wales (17420_a014_a014000306)

The railways are a quintessential part of Sydney. Railway historian Bob McKillop argues that they shaped the commerce and suburbs of Sydney in his two new entries for the Dictionary of Sydney, The Railways of Sydney: shaping the city and its commerce and Funeral Trains.

Here are five little known facts about the history of Sydney’s railways:

1. Our first railway line was planned to go to Goulburn

A railway line between Sydney and Goulburn was first dreamt up in the 1840s. The aim was to assist inland primary producers to get their fruit, wool and wheat to port. Stage one, built by the the Sydney Tramroad and Railway Company (subsequently the Sydney Railway Company) from 1850-1855, went only as far as Parramatta. There were numerous delays in the construction and variations in the scope of the works, including a change of gauge. Rising costs meant the government finally bought the railway from the Sydney Railway Company in 1855.

2. The Sydney Railway Waltz celebrated the first train trip to Parramatta

Every grand occasion needs a great ditty. And the first official train from Sydney to Parramatta, which took place on 26 September 1855, was just such a grand occasion. William Paling stepped up, composing a cute little waltz, complete with the train gathering speed and a train whistle.

3. Rookwood Necropolis was serviced by funerary trains

When the government established Sydney’s new general cemetery out at Haslem’s Creek in 1867, people complained that the cost of funerals would be prohibitive. The government provided a novel solution: a funeral train to transport coffins and funeral groups out to Rookwood Necropolis. The Mortuary Station on Regent Street, Redfern, designed by colonial architect James Barnet, is a gothic reminder of the Sydney funeral trains.

The first page of the Sydney Railway Waltz, composed by WH Paling 1855. Credit: National Library of Australia (nla.mus-an6340871)

The first page of the Sydney Railway Waltz, composed by WH Paling 1855. Credit: National Library of Australia (nla.mus-an6340871) Listen to it being performed by the NSW Transport Institute band here

4. Our first permanent railway terminus was built in 1874

When the railway opened in 1855, the government’s priority was to reduce the capital cost of the railway. The first Sydney terminal was just a single wooden platform covered by a corrugated iron shed, 100 feet long and 30 feet wide (approximately 30.5 x 9 metres).
Designed by the engineer-in-chief John Whitton in 1871, Sydney’s larger and more permanent terminal station with its northern frontage on Devonshire Street was finally opened in 1874. The brick building was in neo-classical style with decorative detail formed using polychromatic relief work.
Central Station opened in 1906 after the railway lines were extended to bring the service a little bit closer to the City.

5. Glebe Island was levelled for the Metropolitan Goods Line

By the early twentieth century the passage of goods trains along Sydney’s main lines was disrupting the flow of passenger traffic. The efficient handling of goods was just as important as passenger services. In 1907 the new Chief Railway Commissioner Thomas Richard Johnson decided to build build a double track goods line from Dulwich Hill to White Bay and Rozelle (Glebe Island), and evenutally on to Darling Harbour. (This is what the light rail now runs along.) Glebe Island was quarried and levelled by 1918 to accommodate new grain silos.

These are just some of the fascinating facts you can discover in these new essays by Bob McKillop – head over to the Dictionary to find out more!

Thanks to the Australian Railway Historical Society who partnered with the Dictionary of Sydney on this project.

This project was funded by the Transport Heritage Grants Program, which is administered by the Royal Australian Historical Society.

If you missed today’s segment, you can catch up here via the 2SER website.

Tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Nic Healey on 107.3 every Wednesday morning at 8:20 am to hear more from the Dictionary of Sydney.  

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