Hawkesbury River Rail Bridge and Long Island Group | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Hawkesbury River Rail Bridge and Long Island Group

Item details

Name of item: Hawkesbury River Rail Bridge and Long Island Group
Other name/s: Brooklyn Railway Station, River Wharf
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Rail
Category: Other - Transport - Rail
Primary address: Hawkesbury River, Long Island, NSW 2083
Parish: Cowan
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Hornsby

Boundary:

North: Northern abutments of the 1946 and 1889 railway bridges. South: the northern portals to the two tunnels (including portals, but excluding tunnel length). East: edge of the 1946 bridge and extending to the piers of the 1889 railway bridge on both embankments. West: the RailCorp ownership boundary on Long Island (including construction docks still in rail ownership) and the edge of the 1946 railway bridge. Note: This curtilage includes RailCorp owned property only. The piers of the 1889 railway bridge that are within the Hawkesbury River water body and the two westernmost construction docks for the 1946 bridge are owned by the NSW Department of Lands. As such there is a visual curtilage which extends beyond the current RailCorp boundaries to include the surrounding setting and related items of the Hawkesbury River area. The remains of the former Brooklyn platform on Long Island also has its own listing.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Hawkesbury RiverLong IslandHornsbyCowanCumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
RailCorpState Government 
RailCorpState Government 
RailCorpState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Long Island Group and in particular the current and former Hawkesbury River Rail Bridges, have State heritage significance. The group as a whole forms a railway precinct of exceptional significance, with elements in an outstanding setting that represent key events in the history of railway development in NSW and demonstrate high levels of engineering achievement and the changes in railway technology in NSW in the period between the 1880s and 1970s.

The completion of the 1886 Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge saw the linkage not only of the significant Sydney to Newcastle Railway link but also in effect, the railway systems of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland were joined by continuous rail with the opening of the bridge. The Bridge was used by Sir Henry Parkes as a powerful symbol of Federation and he gave the address at the opening of the bridge, which has been claimed by some as his first Federation speech. The abutments and piers of the bridge as well as the 1886 Long Island tunnel are tangible reminders of these significant events and the symbolic power they had for people at the time not only in NSW but throughout Australia. Both the 1889 and 1946 bridges and associated infrastructure on Long Island also demonstrate the significant investment in the railway system of NSW in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The workmanship of both bridges demonstrates the significant pride and confidence in the railways at the time.

The surviving sandstone elements of the former Hawkesbury River Bridge and the current Bridge have exceptional aesthetic value in their setting on the Hawkesbury River. The contrast of the man-made bridges and tunnels with the rugged and beautiful natural landscape of Hawkesbury River allows passengers and visitors to appreciate the engineering achievements of the railway line's construction. The vantage point of the approach to Long Island and the bridge also allows passengers to appreciate views of the natural landscape. Both of these factors have made the railway journey a destination in itself for generations of rail passengers.

The 1889 Hawkesbury River Bridge, Long Island Tunnel, Woy Woy Tunnel and the heavy earthworks and tunnels of the Cowan bank were the key engineering works on the Sydney to Newcastle rail link (The Short North). Together they demonstrate a high degree of engineering achievement in building a railway line in difficult and dangerous terrain. The 1889 Hawkesbury River Bridge in particular was a major technical achievement at the time: it was the fourth largest bridge constructed in the world, one of its caissons reached 49m, had the deepest bridge footing in the world and it was the longest bridge in Australia, pushing bridge design and construction techniques to the limit. The bridge was also the first of the American designed truss bridges that were introduced to Australia in the late 1880s and 1890s and thus the first to utilise the American principles of lightweight bracing, pin joints and eye bar tension members. It was the only steel trussed bridge of its type in Australia when it was built and the first major use of steel for bridges with previous examples being built in wrought iron. Its remains are tangible evidence of the change in engineering technology from British to American at this time and the decline of John Whitton's British based design influence on the NSW railway system. There is enough extant fabric in the remaining abutments, piers and the Long Island tunnel to demonstrate the engineering achievements of the original Hawkesbury River crossing.

The 1946 railway bridge was also a major technical achievement at the time of its construction, its large riveted steel trusses and its footings were still among the deepest in the world. It remains the longest purpose built rail bridge in the NSW network. The bridge itself as well as the remnant construction docks, platform and power station demonstrate the technical achievements in the construction of the bridge. The docks in particular provide direct evidence for the method of construction and the challenges associated with construction in this estuarine environment.
Date significance updated: 04 Jun 09
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: Union Bridge Company of New York; NSW Department of Railways
Builder/Maker: Union Bridge Company of New York; NSW Department of Railways
Construction years: 1886-1980
Physical description: Former railway line and Tunnel (1889)
Bridge Abutments (1889)
Current railway line and Tunnel (1946)
Railway Bridge (1946)
Construction docks (1946)
Maintenance depot (c1970s)

CONTEXT
The Long Island Railway Precinct comprises the eastern tip of Long Island, immediately north of Brooklyn and includes a section of the current Northern railway line, leading through a tunnel to the Hawkesbury Rail Bridge, the former alignment of the railway line, including the 1889 tunnel and bridge remnants, former Brooklyn Railway platform & siding, maintenance depot, substation and two houses and an area of bushland and former construction docks. It also includes the 1946 railway bridge and the southern tip of the point on the northern shore to include the northern abutment of the 1886 bridge and a section of the original easement. Together with the Hawkesbury River Station and Brooklyn township forms a large and varied railway landscape.

FORMER RAILWAY LINE and TUNNEL (1889)
The former rail alignment cut through the end of the island through an arched tunnel in a north-south direction. The tunnel is approximately 150m long constructed in face brickwork and the internal walls are partly rendered and painted. Halfway along the tunnel is a small safety refuge on either side. After decommissioning in 1946 the tunnel has been used as a mushroom farm and is currently used for storage of materials and equipment for the railways. Within the last two decades, lighting has been installed along the length of the tunnel. The northern and southern portals are constructed in face brickwork with neo-classical detailing including pilasters on either side and projecting string courses at the top. North of the tunnel is a large cutting, leading to the southernmost abutment of the 1889 former rail bridge. South of the tunnel is a large cleared area, currently used for storage with a number of tracks used for siding purposes. The alignment of the 1889 railway line leading to the 1889 tunnel is no longer visible and the tracks have been removed.
The length of the tunnel is listed on Hornsby Council LEP (but excluded from the SHR boundary).

RAIL BRIDGE ABUTMENTS (1889)
The southern abutment is constructed in concrete and face sandstone and rises approximately 20m above the shoreline. It is classical in detail, particularly to the side elevations with the north-facing elevation constructed in ashlar stonework. Constructed on top of the abutment is a c. 1960s concrete block staff building associated with the maintenance depot. Within this 1960s structure and affixed to the top of the abutment is a large cast iron plaque which formally sat on the crest of the first span of the former rail bridge. It commemorates construction of the bridge by the Union Bridge Company. On the southern abutment there is a range of historic graffiti dating from 1901 to the present day.

North from this abutment are a series of large sandstone piers within the Hawkesbury River. The deck of the former bridge has been removed. The northernmost pier is relatively close to the shore and subsequently the northern abutment is less elaborate and imposing than the southern abutment.

Immediately to the north of the southernmost abutment, but slightly off alignment, is a concrete footing on the shoreline at the mean high water mark, which may have been linked to construction of the former or current bridges.

CURRENT RAILWAY LINE and TUNNEL (1946)
The current railway line is a double track suburban line, through a concrete lined tunnel, dating from 1946, aligned north - south. As part of electrification of the line during the 1960s, the tunnel was modified to accommodate double-decker trains. At the southern end of the Bridge, on the up line, is a small modern metal platform called Hawkesbury River Bridge, used by staff only.
The length of the tunnel is listed on Hornsby Council LEP (but excluded from the SHR boundary).

RAILWAY BRIDGE (1946)
The Hawkesbury River Rail bridge is an eight truss railway bridge, supported on reinforced concrete piers, west of the remnant piers and abutments of the 1889 bridge. The bridge crosses the Hawkesbury River from Long Island to the northern shore, approximately 1 km north of Hawkesbury River Railway Station. The bridge is a 785 m (0.49 mile) steel truss railway underbridge, consisting of 2 x 44.81 m (147 feet) trusses, 2 x 135.64 m (445 feet) trusses and 4 x 105.92 m (347 feet) trusses, all on concrete piers supported on caissons. The bridge is symmetrical with 2 short Pratt trusses at the shore lines, then 2 large K-trusses, with 4 large Pratt trusses in between.

At the southern end of the bridge, adjacent to the entrance of the current concrete lined railway tunnel are two plaques on a concrete pier: one plaque commemorates the opening of the bridge on 1 July 1946 and the other commemorates the lives lost during construction.

CONSTRUCTION DOCKS (1946)
There are three construction docks immediately west of the southern abutment of the Hawkesbury River Rail Bridge. Only one of these is in RailCorp ownership. The docks were used for the construction of the steel trusses of the 1946 bridge. They are formed from rectangular cuttings into the bedrock. Each cutting contained a barge which supported the ends and middle of each large truss as they were being built. They were then floated from this position to specific piers and raised into their permanent position. The end of the dock in RailCorp ownership (the easternmost dock) has been extended in concrete and also has a set of steps providing access from the adjacent construction terrace next to the southern abutment of the bridge. This construction terrace has two footings made from concrete and steel plate, also associated with the construction phase. Under the abutment of the 1946 bridge there is a room containing a compressor and other materials. This space has a concrete vaulted ceiling and was originally an arched opening under the abutment and subsequently infilled.

MAINTENANCE DEPOT (c1970s)
The maintenance depot is a cluster of five modern buildings including the structure built on the southern abutment of the 1889 bridge already noted above. Three of the buildings including that of the abutment are on an upper terrace at the same level as the current bridge’s southern abutment and the 1889 former tunnel. The other two are located on the water line on either side of the southern abutment of the current rail bridge. They are constructed from a range of materials including concrete block, former shipping containers and corrugated metal. There are a series of concrete paths and steps connecting the different terraces.

There are three former electricity staunchions running east-west between the former and current bridges. The lines have been removed. These were linked to the supply of electricity from the sub-station to the current rail line. Up a series of steep stairs to the left of the current train tunnel portal there is a small electricity box made of concrete panels with a corrugated metal roof.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Former railway line and 1889 Tunnel - Good
1889 Bridge Abutments - Good (as a ruin)
Current railway line and 1946 Tunnel - Very Good
1946 Railway Bridge - Very Good
1946 construction docks - Good
Maintenance depot - Good
Date condition updated:04 Jun 09
Modifications and dates: 1946:1889-built Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge taken out of service and replaced by the new bridge. The spans were removed after completion and opening of the new replacement bridge.
c1960: The insubstantial sheds on the former trackbed between the cheeks of the sandstone abutment were constructed for railway staff.
Current use: Railway Infrastructure Works Depot and active railway line and bridge.
Former use: Railway Station, Terminus, Tunnel, Mushroom Farm

History

Historical notes: The Main Northern line between Sydney and Newcastle was constructed in two distinct stages and in the earliest years, was worked as two separate railway systems. The line between Strathfield in Sydney and the Hawkesbury River was opened on 5 April 1887, with the terminus being on the southern bank of the Hawkesbury River. The line between Newcastle and the northern bank of the Hawkesbury River near present day Wondabyne was opened in January 1888. John Whitton, chief engineer of the NSW railways had campaigned to take the new Sydney to Newcastle railway across the Hawkesbury by bridge when others opposed him claiming a large ferry would be sufficient. Whitton said: "I have never heard of a railway steam ferry across a river where conditions were similar to those of the Hawkesbury River, for instance the steam ferry from Brooklyn to New York is being replaced by a permanent bridge. Those over the Tay, the Forth and the Nile have been abandoned and permanent structures adopted" (quoted in Burke 1995: 95).

The Hawkesbury River crossing was made by steamer until a bridge was completed across the Hawkesbury from Long Island to the north shore of the Hawkesbury River in 1889. A rail platform existed on Long Island before the construction of the bridge was completed. Whilst the main line terminated at Hawkesbury River Station, an arrangement of trackwork, sidings and platforms was provided on the causeway formed by reclaimed land on the eastern side of Long Island where the new Long Island tunnel had been constructed. The station was known as ‘River Wharf’ and the tracks terminated at a wharf at the edge of the waterway. This platform is now known as the former Brooklyn Platform. The platform is still there although now disused and overgrown. It serviced the General Gordon paddle steamer, which left from a large timber wharf called Flat Rock Wharf on Long Island (now removed). The purpose of the arrangement was to allow transhipment between the railways and river ferries, thus allowing passengers to cross the waterway, to another wharf on the northern side of the river, while the bridge was under construction. Two brick-faced platforms were provided at River Wharf. One platform, with a shelter shed, provided for passengers and was located on the eastern, or river-side of the track arrangement. The other was a goods platform, located against the rocky formation of Long Island.

The Hawkesbury River Bridge, the Woy Woy tunnel and the heavy earthworks and tunnels of the Cowan bank were the key engineering works on the Sydney to Newcastle rail link. The construction of the Hawkesbury River Bridge presented unique challenges due to the rugged sandstone terrain and the depth of the river, requiring a bridge that would be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The steep sandstone banks of the River meant the bridge would need to be approached from the south by a tunnel, the bedrock bottom of the river was 52m deep in places and the width of the river at the point of crossing was 914m (Lee 1988:107). The design was a significant engineering feat at the time. One caisson would reach 49m below water, the deepest bridge foundation in the world (and taller in height than the Sydney Town Hall) it was also the 4th largest bridge in the world. The construction attracted international media attention (Burke 1995: 98).

The railway Engineer-in-Chief John Whitton who designed and built the railway was not invited to design the bridge due to fall out from a mid 1880s enquiry into railway bridges. The government had also rejected his proposals for a lattice girder bridge, which was estimated to cost 500,000 pounds (Fraser 1995: 45). Instead, an American system of tendering was adopted and companies from around the world were invited to submit designs for the construction of the Bridge (Ellsmore 2000). In April 1886, a tender from the Union Bridge Company of New York, USA, was accepted ahead of 13 other tenders for construction of the bridge. David Burke suggests "it was perhaps the railways’ greatest vote of confidence in the new era of American engineering" (Burke 1995: 93).

Even though the Union Bridge Company was the prime contractor, most of the steel, foundations, cement and stonework were supplied by sub-contractors to the Union Bridge Company, including local contractor Louis Samuel of Sydney who provided stonework for the piers (Fraser 1995: 45) and Arrol and Company who supplied British steel and cement. Arrol and Company had also manufactured much of the steel for the Forth Bridge in Scotland. The Union Bridge Company guaranteed the bridge would be ready in 30 months (by November 1888) and construction commenced immediately.

The bridge was 2905 feet long and comprised seven spans of steel Baltimore pin-jointed trusses, each 415 feet, weighing 1000 tonnes and supported on six stone piers and caissons and with two large stone abutments, one on the south side of the river and one on the north side of the river. The Baltimore trusses were assembled separately on timber falsework on a large pontoon on the north side of Dangar Island and then floated into place at high tide. As the tide ebbed the truss settled onto its bearings (Fraser 1995: 46-47). The work was dangerous due to the local conditions with a number of incidents where spans were nearly lost during bad weather as they were being floated into place. There was also little yard room on either shore of the Hawkesbury or along the rail line and limited landing places for vessels (Burke 1995: 98).

The bridge was typically American in design and was the longest structure to be built in Australia at the time and remained so until construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The American roots of the bridge are reflected in the name given to the construction camp, which was named after the 1883 Brooklyn Suspension Bridge. The town name survives to the present day.

A tunnel (the original Long Island Tunnel), built for duplicate tracks and 483 feet long was driven through Long Island in order to join Hawkesbury River Station to the new bridge over the river. It was of the same brick arch construction as the other tunnels on the Short North including the Woy Woy tunnel. A causeway linked the station to the southern portal of the tunnel. The original Long Island tunnel still exists although it is no longer in use having been bypassed with construction of the new Hawkesbury River Bridge in 1946.

The first Hawkesbury River Bridge was tested on 24 April 1889, with Union Bridge Company engineers, railway engineers, politicians and workers being present. On 1 May 1889, the railway bridge was opened, finally linking the two railway systems. The Union Bridge Company placed large commemorative plaques atop each end of the bridge to mark this significant event, one of which remains on the southern abutment of the bridge in the Long Island maintenance depot. In effect, the railway systems of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland were joined by continuous rail with the opening of the bridge and Henry Parkes used this as a powerful symbol of unification in the lead up to Federation. On 1 May 1889, on the occasion of the opening of the bridge Sir Henry Parkes said: "I feel that the toast entrusted to me represents an event superior to anything that has ever occurred in the history of these great colonies. We are, without any exaggeration of language, assembled here to celebrate an occurrence which has more interest, especially in anticipation of the future, than anything else that has taken place in our history. We have formed a communication by railway which may be said to bind the whole population of Australia in one chain... We have here a representative of the great government of our south, and of the great government of our north, and why should not this occasion be an emblem of our future relations? If the engines meet today with this special greeting, why should we not shake hands and be knit together in bonds that cannot be sundered, and forget the things that created jars that can easily be removed? It is said that the time has arrived for the political federation of these colonies." (Quoted by the Honourable Member for Hornsby, NSW Legislative Assembly, 29 November 2000).

The Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge showed signs of problems within 12 months and the contractors were called back to repair some faults with the piers. Through the 1920s and 1930s, many design faults and problems became evident. By 1925 the original loading of the bridge was considered inadequate and in 1925 it was decided to strengthen the deck. The work took nearly six years between 1926-31 and numerous problems were experienced with the pin-jointed construction of the trusses, which while easy to assemble were difficult to maintain and strengthen (Fraser 1995). In 1937 and 1938, serious cracks developed in a number of piers and divers confirmed major construction faults with the piers below the water line, with the stability of the bridge causing major concerns.

Design and construction of a replacement bridge commenced in 1939, due to concerns that the original bridge would not hold up to extra loading and traffic caused by transport demands of WWII. The old bridge remained in operation until the new one was completed. The design, foundation work and fabrication of the new bridge were undertaken by the New South Wales Government Railways and over 500 men worked on the project, with six dying during construction. A plaque commemorating the lives lost is at the southern end of the bridge, at the northern portal of the 1946 tunnel through Long Island.

The new bridge is located a short distance upstream from the 1889-bridge (piers). It comprises seven steel spans. A new tunnel through Long Island (adjacent to the original 1889 tunnel) and a second tunnel through the sandstone cliffs on the northern side of the river (Mullet Creek tunnel) complete the arrangement.

The trusses for the new bridge were fabricated at Chullora from steel supplied by BHP Newcastle and AI&S Port Kembla (Fraser 1995: 120). It was designed for a heavier loading then it would need to take, possibly learning from the problems encountered with the first bridge. The current bridge is now as old as the one it replaced and has suffered none of the same difficulties. An interesting feature associated with the construction of the new bridge was the assembly site for the trusses, constructed on the north shore of Long Island, just to the west of the alignment of the new bridge. Three wet docks were cut out of the steeply sloping sandstone sides of the island. The docks are still visible as is the small construction platform next to the southern abutment of the 1946 bridge. The docks held floating pontoons, which were construction platforms for the caissons and spans. The pontoons allowed construction at the land based assembly site from where the components were then floated into place. It was a similar concept to the original construction but the assembly site was closer and the number of pontoons provided additional stability to the spans. The three pontoons, in their corresponding wet docks, supported the ends and centre of the spans. Three pontoons were used for the K-trusses of the bridge and two for the Pratt trusses.

Assembling of the trusses began in January 1944 and were completed two years later. On 1 July 1946, the new Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was officially opened and the original bridge was taken out of service. Apart from the Sydney Harbour Bridge project 1922-32, both Hawkesbury River railway bridges have been the largest, most challenging bridge projects in NSW. The 1946 Hawkesbury River Bridge remains the largest purpose built rail bridge in the NSW system.

In the twentieth century a maintenance depot was constructed on Long Island, specifically associated with the current Hawkesbury River Rail Bridge.

The Long Island tunnel portals are visible from Brooklyn township and the Island and southern bridge abutments are accessible to the public. There is clearly a good degree of interest in the railway heritage of the area within the local community and specialist interest groups. In his Federation Address to the NSW Legislative Assembly the Honourable Member for Hornsby said: "As we continue to celebrate Federation in the Brooklyn area, I want us to think carefully about some of the things Tom Richmond and his colleagues have been putting forward about the possibility of turning Brooklyn into a much more obvious place to study our history. For example, the Long Island embankment across which the rail line goes now is one of the few places that reflects the riches of the recent history of Australia. A recent excursion to the area by the Australian Historical Society brought the comment that members of the society had never seen as much historical interest packed into one location. It is the scene of the Peats ferry railway disaster of 1887. You can still see the remains of River Wharf railway station on Long Island. The Founding Fathers, including Parkes, visited there on a number of occasions, as did the Royal Family in 1901 and 1920. You can still see the construction site for the second Hawkesbury River railway bridge, and the disused Long Island tunnel, the history of which includes one death and a period as a mushroom farm." (NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard 29 November 2000).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Creating railway landscapes-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements Building the railway network-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements Rail to ship interchange-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements Maintaining the railway network-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Servicing and accommodating railway employees-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Federation and railways-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Evolution of design in railway engineering and architecture-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Railway tourism-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Birth and Death-Activities associated with the initial stages of human life and the bearing of children, and with the final stages of human life and disposal of the dead. Remembering railway accidents-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Railway celebrations and commemorations-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Long Island Group and particularly the current and former Hawkesbury River Rail Bridges have State heritage significance under this criterion.

The completion of the 1886 Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge saw the linkage not only of the significant Sydney to Newcastle Railway link but also in effect, the railway systems of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland were joined by continuous rail with the opening of the bridge. The Bridge was used by Sir Henry Parkes as a powerful symbol of Federation and he gave the address at the opening of the bridge, which has been claimed by some as his first Federation speech. The abutments and piers of the bridge as well as the 1886 Long Island tunnel are tangible reminders of these significant events and the symbolic power they had for people at the time not only in NSW but throughout Australia. Both the 1889 and 1946 bridges and associated infrastructure on Long Island also demonstrate the significant investment in the railway system of NSW in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The workmanship of both bridges demonstrates the significant pride and confidence in the railways at the time.

The current 1946 Hawkesbury River Rail Bridge is associated with the war effort during WWII and the importance of reliable transport links at that time. It was also the longest rail bridge in Australia at the time of its construction and remains the longest rail bridge in NSW.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The former Hawkesbury River Rail Bridge remnants have State heritage significance under this criterion.

The 1886 railway bridge represents the declining influence of John Whitton, the NSW Railways Engineer-in-Chief who had a significant influence over the development and design of the NSW railways during its first thirty years and the importation of British railway technology to Australia.

The 1886 bridge is also linked to Henry Parkes, who used the wharf as a powerful symbol of national unity in the lead up to Federation.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Long Island Group and in particular the current and former Hawkesbury River Rail Bridges, have State heritage significance under this criterion. The group as a whole forms a railway precinct of exceptional significance, demonstrating high levels of engineering achievement and the changes in railway technology in NSW in the period between the 1880s and 1970s. This evidence is embodied in the houses, former platform, tunnel, bridge, substation, construction docks, current tunnel and bridge and maintenance depot.

The surviving sandstone elements of the former Hawkesbury River Bridge and the current Bridge have exceptional aesthetic value in their setting on the Hawkesbury River. The contrast of the man-made bridges and tunnels with the rugged and beautiful natural landscape of Hawkesbury River allows passengers and visitors to appreciate both the engineering achievements of the railway line's construction. The vantage point of the approach to Long Island and the bridge also allows passengers to appreciate views of the natural landscape. Both of these factors have made the railway journey a destination in itself for generations of rail passengers.

The 1889 Hawkesbury River Bridge, Long Island Tunnel, Woy Woy Tunnel and the heavy earthworks and tunnels of the Cowan bank were the key engineering works on the Sydney to Newcastle rail link (The Short North). Together they demonstrate a high degree of engineering achievement in building a railway line in difficult and dangerous terrain. The 1889 Hawkesbury River Bridge in particular was a major technical achievement at the time: it was the fourth largest bridge constructed in the world, one of its caissons reached 49m and was the deepest bridge footing in the world and it was the longest bridge in Australia, pushing bridge design and construction techniques to the limit. The bridge was also the first of the American designed truss bridges that were introduced to Australia in the late 1880s and 1890s and thus the first to utilise the American principles of lightweight bracing, pin joints and eye bar tension members. It was the only steel trussed bridge of its type in Australia when it was built and the first major use of steel for bridges with previous examples being built in wrought iron. Its remains are tangible evidence of the change in engineering technology from British to American at this time and the decline of John Whitton's British based design influence on the NSW railway system. There is enough extant fabric in the remaining abutments, piers and the Long Island tunnel to demonstrate the engineering achievements of the original Hawkesbury River crossing.

The 1946 railway bridge was also a major technical achievement at the time of its construction, with its large riveted steel trusses and its footings were still among the deepest in the world. It remains the longest purpose built rail bridge in the NSW network. The bridge itself as well as the remnant construction docks, platform and power station demonstrate the technical achievements in the construction of the bridge. The docks in particular provide direct evidence for the method of construction and the challenges associated with construction in this estuarine environment.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The social significance of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridges and the Long Island group has not been formally assessed through community consultation. It is likely however, to have a high level of heritage significance under this criterion. Generations of rail passengers have experienced the Hawkesbury River Rail journey and its scenic qualities. The Institute of Engineers have plaqued the 1889 railway bridge as a National Engineering Landmark. The railway line itself has had a significant impact on the economic and social development of northern NSW and in particular the Hunter region. The site is also likely to have significance for the families of those who worked on construction of the tunnels and bridges who lost their lives.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The construction platform of the 1946 bridge may reveal information about equipment and procedures used for construction of the bridge spans and caissons, although this is not likely to reveal substantial new information not already available in historic documentation.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The Long Island Group and particularly the current and former Hawkesbury River Rail Bridges have State heritage significance under this criterion.

The 1889 Hawkesbury River Railway bridge was rare at the time of its construction, as it was the 4th largest bridge in the world. There is enough extant fabric of the bridge abutments and piles to demonstrate its significance under this criterion. It was also the first bridge in Australia to utilise lightweight American bridge technology although the superstructure of the bridge is not longer extant and so the site no longer demonstrates this aspect of the bridge's significance.

The 1946 Railway Bridge has two K-braced trusses, which are rare as they are only used for the construction of large truss bridges. The Hawkesbury River Bridge remains the longest purpose built railway bridge in the NSW network. The construction docks associated with the 1946 Railway Bridge are unique. No other examples are known in NSW.
Integrity/Intactness: The group as a whole retains a high degree of integrity as it contains evidence from all phases of the site's railway use from the 1880s to the present day.

The current line, the 1946 tunnel and the 1946 bridge are operational and retain a high degree of integrity with few modifications since construction. The 1886 tunnel also retains a high degree of integrity. The 1886 bridge is no longer intact as the superstructure has been removed, but the abutment and piers remain intact.

The construction docks maintain a high degree of integrity although the associated construction frames and other machinery have been removed.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerRailcorp S170 Register    

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
S170 Heritage & Conservation Register Update2009 NSW Department of Commerce  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenC. C. Singleton The Short North. The Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin. Various issues.
WrittenDavid Burke1995Making the Railways
WrittenDavid Scobie Architects Pty Ltd A Conservation Management Plan for the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge (1889-1946)
WrittenDavid Sheedy Pty Ltd1999Inspection of Sites with potential heritage significance
WrittenDon Fraser1995Bridges Down Under: The History of Railway Underbridges in New South Wales
WrittenJohn Forsyth Line Histories
WrittenNSW Department of Railways. Way and Works Branch.1946New Hawkesbury River Bridge. Details of Southern Abutment Drwg. No. 178-31
WrittenRay Love2009Historical Research for RailCorp s170 Update
WrittenRobert Lee1988The Greatest Public Work. NSW Railways 1848 to 1889.
WrittenState Rail Authority of New South Wales1995How and Why of Station Names. Fourth Edition

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 4800130


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