In December 2016 Sydney Trains and Transport Heritage NSW celebrated 90 years since the opening of the first underground railway in Australia. The event included tunnel tours, vintage electric train rides, a temporary exhibition, commemorative photo and online video, with a hugely successful social media campaign to promote the event.

On December 20, 1926 the first section of the City Circle opened connecting Central, Museum and St James stations. The underground and electrification of the railways was championed by Dr John J.C. Bradfield, who also oversaw the planning and design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The initial construction and opening of the line through to St James Station in 1926 took 10 years to build and was the largest coordinated railway works in Australia’s history.

To celebrate the opening of the railways and the engineering heritage of the city underground a co-ordinated event and exhibition installation were undertaken at St James Station throughout December 2016.

Ahead of the exhibition St James Station also had recently been repainted, lighting upgrades and sandstone conservation works undertaken to restore the station listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

The design and installation of a free public temporary exhibition along the platforms of St James was undertaken ahead of the December celebrations. Located in 23 glass cabinets along the platform that had been largely empty for the last 5 years, the installation documented the history and development of the city underground. Rare images were sourced from the National Library, Historic Houses Trust, private collections and the Australasian Railway Historical Society (ARHS) archives for display. The exhibition also included historical objects from the state railway collections including historic signage, paintings, equipment and station finishes. Historical research was prepared with the assistance if ARHS.

The exhibition also included a special commemorative video available online, with rare historical footage of the underground from the 1920s sourced form the National Film and Sound Archives.

The event also included a commemorative photo with Sydney Trains’ executive recreating the famous picture of Dr JJC Bradfield and railway staff and engineers at the opening of the station in 1926. The event was covered by Channel 7 news to promote a free public open-day on Saturday, December 10.

In 2016 Sydney Trains and Transport Heritage NSW also recommissioned the famous FP1 ‘Red-rattler’ with public train tours made available through the city underground network. Over 1000 people attended on the public open day to ride the vintage electric train recreating the 1920s era of travel by train.

Public tours were also undertaken of the famous ‘ghost tunnels’ under Hyde Park, which are rarely opened for public access. The tours included a historical overview of the station, its construction and exploring the railway history and later historical elements of the tunnels when used as air raid shelters during WWII.

To promote the event a social media campaign was launched with the public provided the opportunity to register for the free tunnel tours via Sydney Trains website and facebook page. The launch was a huge success with over 12,500 members of the public registering for the event, and connecting with this historical milestone.

The project proved difficult, co-ordinating an event deep underground with limited vehicular access, and ensuring safety standards were upheld for the public. However, the day was a resounding success with positive public feedback and strong engagement with the rail heritage of Sydney.

The project provided an excellent example of commemorating significant milestones in Sydney’s cultural heritage, and the interpretation of significant heritage sites through special events. The use of social media and creating interest in the event also proved a great way to promote heritage, and provide access to key heritage spaces rarely opened to the public.


Worked on the project:
Sydney Trains, in conjunction with Transport Heritage NSW and the Australian Railway Historical Society

What the Judges said:

“The excitement of hidden things – quite fascinating exploration of Sydney’s underground train tunnels with train rides and exhibition – what’s not to love?”