Ultimo (Railway Square) Railway Overbridge | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Ultimo (Railway Square) Railway Overbridge

Item details

Name of item: Ultimo (Railway Square) Railway Overbridge
Other name/s: George Street Overbridge
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Rail
Category: Railway Bridge/ Viaduct
Primary address: Railway Square, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney


The listing boundary is the area around the bridge for a distance of 10 metres in all directions. North: At tunnel portal opening adjacent to ABC studios; South: At tunnel portal entry adjacent to bus interchange; East: 10 metres beyond eastern wall of tunnel; West: 10 metres beyond western wall of tunnel.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Railway SquareSydneySydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
RailCorpState Government 
RailCorpState Government 
RailCorpState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Ultimo (Railway Square) overbridge is of state significance as the oldest surviving structure on the NSW railway system and possibly the only surviving example of the work of the Sydney Railway Company. Opened in 1855, it has a direct and tangible link to the first phase of railway construction in NSW and to the Darling Harbour Goods Yard. The overbridge is associated with William Randle, the first engineer in charge of construction on the NSW railways. The various extensions to the overbridge which together form the current tunnel demonstrate the changing technologies and designs used in railway engineering. The sandstone ceilings blackened from the soot and steam of the steam trains that used it are an evocative reminder of the steam era. The overbridge has a strong connection to the original Sydney Station and is a rare example of the first phase of railway construction in NSW.
Date significance updated: 15 May 09
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: William Randle
Builder/Maker: Sydney Railway Company; NSW Government Railways
Construction years: 1855-
Physical description: OVERBRIDGE (1855)
The first section of the Railway Square overbridge completed was an arched sandstone overbridge, which remains in the centre of the current tunnel. To the east and west the first extensions included sandstone walls with a brick vaulted ceiling. Later extensions to the east and west were completed in brick and concrete. The approach from the southeast is via a brick-lined cutting which dates from pre 1885. The two brick vaulted sections are propped with steel bracing frames.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The tunnel and original overbridge are in good to moderate condition. There is evidence of damp and some cracking of masonry. Mortar is missing from the portions of the original sandstone section. The roofs of the two immediately adjacent sections, being the brick vaulted extensions, are braced with steel framing.
Date condition updated:21 May 09
Modifications and dates: 1855: first section completed
c1880: extended to west
c1990s: extended to southeast to accommodate new building overhead.
c2005: steel bracing added to support original stone section.
Further information: Also see related listing for the Darling Harbour Rail Corridor, listed on Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) Section 170 Register.
Current use: Disused tunnel
Former use: Railway tunnel


Historical notes: On 26 September 1855, the day of the opening of the first passenger rail line between Sydney and Parramatta, the direct goods line from the Sydney Yard to the Darling Harbour wharfs and goods yard was also opened. As part of this line the tracks ran under Parramatta Road through a sandstone arched overbridge designed by the engineer William Randle. The day marked the beginning of the railway in colonial NSW, and represented its two main functions: transporting people and transporting goods. The interaction of the railway and the shipping at Darling Harbour was an important factor in expanding the available markets for agricultural and manufactured goods for both import and export trade. It allowed for goods to be brought from ever-further parts of NSW as the rail network expanded. These goods could then be loaded directly onto ships for intrastate, interstate and international markets.

The arched overbridge was constructed using Pyrmont sandstone and was built with a 7.55 metre span and a width of 18.3 metres. The centre arch was 5 metres above the rail level and has a radius of 4.9 metres. It was constructed by the Sydney Railway Company, the private interest group that formed in 1848 with the backing of the NSW Legislative Council. William Randle, who had arrived in 1852 with the company's new Engineer-in-Chief James Wallace, was placed in charge of construction.

In 1854 the private company was taken over by the government, due largely to a lack of funds and increasing political pressure to complete the first sections as promised.

The original sections of the overbridge at Railway Square are the oldest remaining pieces of railway infrastructure on the NSW system and the last large-scale (possibly only) pieces of infrastructure built by the Sydney Railway Company. The overbridge also remains as one of few tangible reminders of the original Sydney Station complex.

During the 1880s Parramatta Road was widened and so the overbridge was also widened to the west by approximately 44m (145 feet). In c1909 George Street South was extended to join Regent Street. The new section was named Lee Street and necessitated the extension of the overbridge to the east. Both these extensions were constructed using sandstone for the walls and vaulted arched brickwork.

Aerial photographs from 1943 show that the goods line tunnel (it was becoming a tunnel as overbridges were added and extended) was open for a section in Railway Square between Lee Street and George Street South. This is still apparent on City of Sydney plans from 1955, but it has not been established when it was finally closed over (c1970s). The double lines through the tunnel were gauntleted to deal with the lack of clearance when they were electrified in 1956.

The most recent sections of the tunnel are concrete and were constructed c1990s when the new Department of Immigration office tower was built in Lee Street.

In 1986 the Darling Harbour goods yard was closed and Darling Harbour was rebuilt as an entertainment and conference facility. The line remained open to allow trains to run through to the Rozelle yard which itself was closed in 1997. Part of the line from the Sydney Yard was kept open to allow heritage trains access through to the Powerhouse Museum, but this was also closed in c2005, bringing to an end 150 years of railway use of the Railway Square overbridge and tunnel. Parts of the tunnel extensions (the brick vaulted sections) have since been propped using steel frames and braces to support the increasing weight of the road traffic above.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services 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 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 Transport of goods-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Ultimo (Railway Square) overbridge has historical significance as the oldest piece of railway infrastructure on the entire NSW system and possibly the only remaining piece of railway infrastructure built by the Sydney Railway Company. Opened on the first day of rail service in NSW, it remains as a tangible link to the pioneering days of railways in NSW and to the former Darling Harbour goods yard. The connection of the railways with the shipping at Darling Harbour played a significant role in the expansion of trade of NSW goods and allowed for goods to be brought from and taken to all parts of NSW for direct shipping.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Ultimo (Railway Square) overbridge is associated with the first construction engineer for NSW railways, William Randle, and with the Sydney Railway Company for whom he worked. The overbridge is associated with the first phase of NSW railway developments.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Ultimo (Railway Square) overbridge has technical significance through the retention of each of the extensions from 1855 onwards which demonstrates the changing techniques used by railway engineers in stone, brick and concrete for overbridge construction since the first days of the NSW railway system. The original sandstone portion has aesthetic significance as a fine example of colonial engineering and railway architecture in Pyrmont sandstone. The stone is blackened by the years of soot and steam of the steam trains that utilised the line, providing a dramatic link to that period.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The place has the potential to contribute to the local community's sense of place and can provide a connection to the local community's history.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Ultimo (Railway Square) overbridge provides some research potential through the use of different techniques for overbridge and tunnel construction across the full period of NSW railways.
SHR Criteria f)
The Ultimo (Railway Square) overbridge is a rare piece of railway infrastructure on the NSW system. It remains as the oldest known structure in the system, dating from the first day of the railway network's use and is possibly the only piece of railway infrastructure remaining built by the Sydney Railway Company.
SHR Criteria g)
The Ultimo (Railway Square) overbridge is representative of changing construction techniques and designs for overbridges on the NSW system.
Integrity/Intactness: The overbridge remains intact.
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.

Recommended management:

1. Conservation principles: Conserve cultural heritage significance and minimise impacts on heritage values and fabric in accordance with the ‘Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance’. 2. Specialist advice: Seek advice from a qualified heritage specialist during all phases of a proposed project from feasibility, concept and option planning stage; detailed design; heritage approval and assessment; through to construction and finalisation. 3. Documentation: Prepare a Statement of Heritage Impact (SOHI) to assess, minimise and prevent heritage impacts as part of the assessment and approval phase of a project. Prepare a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) prior to proposing major works (such as new additions, change of use or proposed demolition) at all places of State significance and all complex sites of Local significance. 4. Maintenance and repair: Undertake annual inspections and proactive routine maintenance works to conserve heritage fabric in accordance with the ‘Minimum Standards of Maintenance & Repair’. 5. Movable heritage: Retain in situ and care for historic contents, fixtures, fittings, equipment and objects which contribute to cultural heritage significance. Return or reinstate missing features or relocated items where opportunities arise. 6. Aboriginal, archaeology and natural heritage: Consider all aspects of potential heritage significance as part of assessing and minimising potential impacts, including Aboriginal, archaeology and natural heritage. 7. Unidentified heritage items: Heritage inventory sheets do not describe or capture all contributory heritage items within an identified curtilage (such as minor buildings, structures, archaeology, landscape elements, movable heritage and significant interiors and finishes). Ensure heritage advice is sought on all proposed changes within a curtilage to conserve heritage significance. 8. Recording and register update: Record changes at heritage places through adequate project records and archival photography. Notify all changes to the Section 170 Heritage & Conservation Register administrator upon project completion.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
State Rail Authority Heritage Register Study1999SRA79State Rail Authority  No
S170 Heritage & Conservation Register Update2009 Godden Mackay Logan  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
MapCity of Sydney1955City Building Survey
MapDepartment of Lands1887Metropolitan Detail Series
WrittenDon Fraser1995Bridges Down Under: A History of Underbridges in NSW
WrittenJohn Gunn1989Along Parallel Lines: A history of the railways of NSW 1850-1986
WrittenJohn Oakes2001Sydney's Forgotten Goods Railways

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: 4801079

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