Circular Quay Railway Station and Viaduct | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Circular Quay Railway Station and Viaduct

Item details

Name of item: Circular Quay Railway Station and Viaduct
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Rail
Category: Railway Platform/ Station
Primary address: Alfred Street, City Railway Loop, Circular Quay, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney


North: edge of Viaduct and Station building facing Circular Quay South: property boundary facing Alfred StreetEast: entry to Macquarie Street portalWest: entry to Harrington Street portal
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Alfred Street, City Railway LoopCircular QuaySydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
RailCorpState Government 
RailCorpState Government 
RailCorpState Government 

Statement of significance:

Circular Quay Station and viaduct are of state significance as the closing section in the city rail loop that was over 40 years in planning and construction. As prominent landmarks across the northern end of the city they serve as a visual boundary between the city and the harbour. The station exhibits aspects of Inter-War Functionalist and some Art Deco stylistic features, completed long after both styles had been largely discontinued in major urban architectural form, reflecting the pre-war planning of the station and the subsequent delays in construction. The station design and location have been subject to ongoing analysis and debate and have remained controversial in Sydney's planning history. The use of riveted technology as part of the viaduct represents the last phase of this construction technique in Sydney railway infrastructure.
Date significance updated: 14 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: JJC Bradfield/Circular Quay Planning Committee
Builder/Maker: NSW Government
Construction years: 1938-1956
Physical description: STATION BUILDING (1956)
Circular Quay Station is located on an elevated section of the City Circle railway line and is comprised of two platforms served by central facilities below the running lines. The platforms are accessed via stairs and escalators (two to each platform) as well as lifts (two to each platform). The platforms are separated from each other by the double line that runs between them. Each platform includes a platform office. Platforms are precast concrete with concrete deck.

The exterior façade of the station is fronted with a combination of polished granite and sandstone tiles facing Alfred Street and polished granite tiles facing Circular Quay. The station name is spelt out in steel lettering adhered to the façade on both sides. Steel-framed windows run across the upper level of each side. The use of polished granite for exterior surfaces is unique in the history of station-building construction.

On the street level, the concourse is accessed via two banks of automatic barriers. Ticket offices, station managers' offices, public toilets, retail shops and take-away food outlets are located on the lower level. Glass bricks are used extensively in these spaces, while brass aquatic animal motifs are used as decorative features in grills above each stairway and above exits from the station area to the Circular Quay and Alfred Street sides.

Although completed in 1956 the station building retains the Inter-War Functionalist style of its pre-war design. The style is displayed in such features as the horizontal bands of windows and fenestrations giving a streamlined effect. Some Art Deco features are also prevalent in the use of metal framed windows and ornamental grilles.

VIADUCT (1938-1956)
The Circular Quay viaduct consists of 12 riveted through plate-web girders. Each girder spans 85 feet (26m). A double track runs on reinforced concrete slabs with rubber pads supporting the tracks to dampen noise. The viaduct is supported on large circular concrete columns spaced at the joining point of each span piece.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The station and viaduct are in good condition.
Date condition updated:08 Dec 08
Modifications and dates: 2007: station upgrades, including additions to the platform area for shade amenity, the removal of advertising hoarding between the tracks, new booking and ticketing offices and facilities on the concourse level, general maintenance and painting across the station area.
2014: Installation of two new lifts, one to each platform. This required partial closure of stair voids; demolition of small portion of control rooms and platform slabs.
2012: Refresh works program (no heritage impacts). In addition to general station clean, the following works: 1. Replacement of the existing Ticket Barrier Portals and installation of additional ticket gates to the Paid Concourse, including demolition and removal of the existing overhead ticketing gantry, roller doors, GAC booth and glass door access points; Installation of a new, slimline, ticketing gantry. Construction of two smaller GAC booths, one at either entrance, comprised of stainless steel frames with infill panels and glazing; Increase of the ticketing gate facilities from five gates and one wide-­ access gate at each entrance, to ten gates and one wide-­access gate at each entrance; Extension of the existing in-­floor ducts for the ticketing gate facilities and retiling of the area beneath the gates; 2. Installation of new Passenger Information indicators within paid concourse; 3. Installation of additional cabling (electrical and communications) to support additional equipment installations; 4. Pigeon treatment and management across the station precinct, both internal and external; 5. Re-­instate the bubbler/refill facilities, one to each platform design in keeping/reflective of the original bubblers; 6. Cleaning and painting of the roof sails in both the concourse area and platforms; 7. Painting and improvements to public toilets; 8. Revitalisation of bronze work features above both stairwells; 9. Installation of vending machines on both platforms; 10. Removal of the yellow ‘Keep Clear’ signage paint on both platforms; 11. Replacement of seating on both platforms;12. Replacement of light fittings in both the paid concourse and the platform areas with low energy high intensity fittings; 13. Dismantling and removal of two cleaners cupboards within the western, unpaid concourse.
2014: Installation of two passenger lifts, one to each platform to allow easy access from concourse to platform levels.
Further information: This listing excludes the Cahill Expressway road bridge which is managed by RTA.
Current use: Railway Station and Viaduct
Former use: Nil


Historical notes: Circular Quay, at the head of Sydney Cove, has been the focal point for the interface between the town and the harbour since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. The quay was constructed in phases from the 1830s until the 1860s to allow for commercial shipping to berth alongside wharves and warehouses that once dominated all three sides. From the later 1890s and after the formation of the Sydney Harbour Trust in 1900 ferry commuter wharves came to dominate. From this time Circular Quay grew as a commuting hub, with both ferries and trams terminating here. The construction of a railway station as part of this transport network was the next logical step in the quay's development. From the 1960s and 1970s, with the construction of the Overseas Passenger Terminal nearby and the Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay also grew in prominence as a tourist destination.

Planning for a railway station at Circular Quay began with the 1909 City of Sydney Royal Commission, with work being authorised in 1915. The Circular Quay Station was a vital component of JJC Bradfield's city circle loop and wider city railway scheme. His vision for Circular Quay was the addition of the station to the existing transport and commuter network, with the trains linking to the tram and ferry services already in existence.

Work commenced on the city loop in 1917 with the eastern Central to St James section opened in 1926 and the western Central to Wynyard section opened in 1932. The tunnels from each of these end points to Circular Quay were also built at this time, with the eastern section to St James being used as a mushroom farm until the mid 1930s and later as an air raid shelter during World War II.

The final section from Wynyard to St James, which would join the loop, was started in 1936 with the first stages of the viaduct being erected. This stopped temporarily in 1937 and then stopping completely in 1941 due to the restrictions of World War II. In 1945 work recommenced and by 1948 the viaduct on the eastern side was level with Phillip Street, while in the west it had crossed George Street. Work stopped again in 1951, starting and stopping a second time in the same year and finally being restarted in 1953. By mid 1954 the viaduct was joined and work on the station building was well advanced.

The spans for the viaduct were constructed as riveted steel plate-web girders at 85 feet in length. This technique was the standard construction from the early 1910s until the 1960s, although spans of over 80 feet were rare. The Circular Quay viaduct was the third largest on the city system after one on the Cronulla line at Sutherland (114 feet) and one over what is now Olympic Drive at Lidcombe (85 feet).

Detailed design on the station building had also commenced in 1927 and was further considered by the 1937 Circular Quay Planning Committee.

The station was completed and opened in January 1956 with the first regular train service beginning on 22 January. The train used for the opening ceremony was the first to be equipped on the suburban system with power-operated doors.

From the start the station was controversial, with differing opinions as to whether it was an eyesore or whether it was the symbol of a modern developing international city. This was especially the case when the Cahill Expressway opened on the top level of the structure in 1958.

The station underwent an upgrade in 2007 with new booking and ticketing facilities on the lower level, new awnings on the platforms, the removal of advertising hoardings between the tracks and general maintenance and painting across the station area.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
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-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Impacts of Railways on Urban Form-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Circular Quay Station has state historical significance as the linking station in the city rail loop and as a key element in JJC Bradfield's city loop railway, a project that took over forty years to complete. The station was developed and remains as a key component in one of Sydney's busiest commuter and tourist hubs and was an essential development in the consolidation of Circular Quay for this purpose. The station has attracted controversy since its opening and has remained at the forefront of public debate about Sydney design and planning since its construction.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Circular Quay station is associated with JJC Bradfield, Chief Engineer for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway Construction 1914-1933. Bradfield envisaged Circular Quay Station as a key component in his wider Sydney railway network scheme and saw it as a vital element through its integration with other commuter services such as ferries and trams.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Circular Quay railway station and viaduct have state significance as a prominent landmark across the northern end of the city which serves as a visual boundary between the city and the harbour. The Circular Quay station has aesthetic significance as a late example of the Inter-War Functionalist style and for the use of polished granite and sandstone tiles for its façade. It has some technical significance through its use of concrete framing for the station and riveted steel work at a time when welding and reinforced concrete were becoming more common in railway construction.
The Circular Quay viaduct has technical significance as a large riveted plate-web girder viaduct designed and fabricated in the 1930s but not utilised until the 1950s on the city rail system. The viaduct has the third largest spans on the system.
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 Circular Quay station area has potential research significance as an area of archaeological potential. The area at ground level including the station concourse, shops, and viaduct are built over areas of the earliest European development in the city including the Tank Stream, early harbour modifications and resumptions and first sections of stone seawalls and quay development.
SHR Criteria f)
Circular Quay Station is a rare station on the city suburban network as it is the only station constructed in the city centre during the between 1932 and 1956. It is a rare example of Inter-War Functionalist style in railway station design and one of the last examples of riveted steel construction, reflecting its early design as part of the city circle and Sydney Harbour Bridge scheme.
Integrity/Intactness: The station and viaduct are both intact and have a medium (booking offices and ticket facilities) to high (platforms, station façade and viaduct) level of integrity. Both remain in use as originally intended. Works undertaken in 2007 have not impacted on the significance of the Station or viaduct.
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 registerSRA s.170 Register    

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
State Rail Authority Heritage Register Study1999SRA109State Rail Authority  No
S170 Heritage & Conservation Register Update2009 Godden Mackay Logan  Yes
Heritage Platforms Conservation Management Strategy2015 Australian Museum Consulting  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenCCG Architects2013STATEMENT OF HERITAGE IMPACT For Two New Lifts at Circular Quay Railway Station
WrittenDon Fraser1995Bridges Down Under: The history of railway underbridges in NSW
WrittenFuturePast Heritage Consulting Pty Ltd2012Upgrade Works - Circular Quay Railway Station, Statement of Heritage Impact
WrittenJ Meyer Statement of Historical Significance of Circular Quay Railway, internal unpublished report, State Rail Heritage Unit, 1995.
WrittenJJC Bradfield1987The Electrification of Sydney and Suburban Railways - The City Railway, presented before the Institution of Engineers 1926
WrittenJohn Gunn1989Along Parallel Lines: A history of railways in NSW 1850-1986
WrittenPaul Ashton1995The Accidental City: Planning Sydney Since 1788

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: 4801109

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