Town Hall Railway Station | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Town Hall Railway Station

Item details

Name of item: Town Hall Railway Station
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Rail
Category: Railway Platform/ Station
Primary address: George Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney


North: 5 metres beyond the end of the tunnel portals on each station level.South: 5 metres beyond the end of tunnel portals on each station level.East: The structural extent of the underground property.West: The structural extent of the underground property.Note: does not include modern retail areas.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
George StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
RailCorpState Government 
RailCorpState Government 
RailCorpState Government 

Statement of significance:

Town Hall Station has local significance as one of a group of underground stations built as part of a larger city underground railway design developed by Dr JCC Bradfield. It is one of five stations that form the City Loop and its construction represented a major achievement in railway engineering and construction for the period. The building of Town Hall Station contributed to the further development of Sydney City as it allowed for much improved access beyond Central Station. Built in the interwar period, its remaining original/early features includes escalators, balustrades and steel framework columns demonstrate an architectural aesthetic of functionality popular at the time and particularly prevalent in railway architectural design in this period.

Extract from Statement of Significance for Town Hall Railway Station 'Escalators Nos. 1 & 2' (prepared by Significance International, Feb 2016):
Escalators Nos. 1 & 2 at Town Hall Railway Station are remarkable survivors of wooden-stepped escalators. The Town Hall escalators are emblematic of Sydney’s 20th century industrial development, which is part of the nation-building narrative of industrialisation. In the decade prior to their manufacture, the majority of Australia's workforce was engaged in city rather than rural industries and manufacturing was key to Australia's economic prosperity. Made in Sydney in 1955-57 by the Otis Elevator Company Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of the US-based parent company, these escalators were locally adapted from an American design and are an excellent example of the resourcefulness and capacity of the local engineering industry of the time. Their robust construction also manifests a design process and philosophy that was typical for its era, in reflecting no anticipated end to their functional life.
Date significance updated: 24 Mar 16
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
Builder/Maker: Railway Commissioners
Construction years: 1928-1932
Physical description: UNDERGROUND STATION (1932)
- concourse
- platforms
- stairways, elevators, and escalators

Town Hall Station is entirely underground with entry points via stairs in George Street, elevators in George Street and via pedestrian subways from adjoining city developments including the Town Hall arcade, Queen Victoria Building, Galleries Victoria development and other adjacent commercial arcades.

The station has an upper concourse level with ticket booths and offices in the public concourse and pedestrian throughway. Electronic ticket barriers at the north, south, east and west sides allow access to the paid concourse area. The paid area allows access down to the platforms below. The floor is tiled with central circular motifs of the town hall in maroon tile. Columns are tiled in cream tiles with yellow and green banding.

Platforms (c1930?)
Town Hall Station includes six platforms over two levels. Platforms 1, 2 and 3 are one level down, while 4, 5 and 6 are two levels down. Each level includes two island platforms configured so that one platform faces two lines and the other faces a single line. Exposed riveted steel I-beam girders (stamped 'Dorman Long & Co') are retained as columns on each of the platforms, with the lower half being encased in stainless steel.
Concrete and tile coping with tile surface.

Stairways, Elevators, and Escalators
Platforms are accessed via stairways, elevators and escalators. The stairways retain original ironwork banisters and timber balustrading. Historic wooden escalators 'No 1' and 'No 2' (servicing platforms 5 and 6) were installed in 1950s. The 1979 ESR platforms retain moulded plyboard ceilings.

World War 2 ‘Air Raid Shelter’ poster: In c2013 a poster was uncovered from under layers of paint. It is located on the wall at the staircase down to platform 1 and 2 from concourse level. It is thought that the wartime sign directed people to the lower platforms 4 and 5 and associated disused tunnels for protection against enemy attack, should it occur. The poster has now been encased for preservation and an interpretive sign placed adjacent.

Archaeological potential associated with the former burial ground may remain in Town Hall Railway Station vicinity. While the amount of excavation and tunnelling that was undertaken to construct the station area is likely to have removed most of the archaeological resource, the potential for further finds cannot be eliminated.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Good condition.
Date condition updated:09 Jun 09
Modifications and dates: 1950s: Escalator upgrade (installation of wooden)
1979: opening of Eastern Suburbs Railway and upgrade of lower platforms to accommodate it. Included installation of four new escalators.
1982: Concourse upgrade.
2003-2004: Elevators added to access platforms.
2011: Elevators upgraded
2015: Reconstructed historic signage installed.
2015: Wooden Escalators - wooden cleats treads replaced like for like.
2015/16: Station upgrade (new wall/column tiles, flooring, paint scheme, ticket line and concourse glazing.
Further information: Parts of this listing also fall within the SHR listing boundaries for Sydney Town Hall (SHR #01452) and St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral & Chapter House (SHR #01708).
Current use: Railway Station
Former use: Nil


Historical notes: At the beginning of the twentieth century, congestion in the city and continued criticism of the railway terminus's being at the southern end of the business district far from the harbour was gradually forcing the government into finding a solution to the city railway dilemma. The general consensus was that an electric underground system running through the city would be the best way to bring the increasing numbers of commuters into the city centre. In 1909, a royal commission into city improvements announced that, among other measures, the government must proceed with the city railway scheme. Six years later Parliament passed an enabling Act for 'the construction of eleven railways in the city and certain suburbs'.

The chief engineer appointed for the task of constructing the metropolitan railway was JJC Bradfield, who had advocated a city railway with links to the North Shore via a bridge since 1911. Bradfield’s plan included an underground loop line running from the new Central Station with five city stations (Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, St James and Museum) and two other lines being carried over the harbour to North Sydney.

Though the enabling Act was passed by the government in 1915, the intervention of the World War I meant work did not start in earnest until the early 1920s. The western side of the city underground line extended from Central Station towards the harbour, with work beginning on the excavations for Town Hall Station in 1927. Town Hall Station was built using a combination of cut-and-cover and tunnelling methods, representing (along with the rest of the underground network) a major technological and engineering undertaking for the period.

As part of the negotiations for the development of the station, Bradfield held long and complicated discussions with St Andrews Cathedral. The city surveyor, Norman Weekes, had proposed that the cathedral be disassembled and relocated as part of the development. However, Bradfield only proposed a resumption of 10 feet of the cathedral's land for an entry way to the station. Bradfield's plan was the eventual outcome. The station was built under the roadway in George Street in front of the town hall. The town hall itself had been built on the site of Sydney's first burial ground; recent archaeological excavations (2008) revealed burial sites there.

Town Hall Station was opened 28 February 1932 with four of the six platforms in operation. The final two platforms, 5 and 6, were opened in June 1979 as part of the Eastern Suburbs Railway. In c1982 an upgrade to the concourse area was undertaken and it is likely that this was when the original tiling was replaced (not confirmed).

In 2003-2004 elevators were installed from George Street to the public concourse and from the paid concourse to the platforms as part of the easy-access upgrade of the station. This was followed by a major upgrade of the public concourse area in 2007. This upgrade included the removal of a number of small shopfronts to widen the concourse for pedestrian flow.

Town Hall Station is the second busiest station on the City Rail network.

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-
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 or architecture-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Town Hall Station has historical significance as one of the principal Sydney railway stations and as an essential component of the entire city network, with most lines running through it. Its position in the heart of the city contributed to the area's commercial development. The station was designed by JJC Bradfield as part of his wider city underground scheme and, when opened, became one of the busiest stations on the entire network. The construction of the station using cut-and-cover and tunnelling methods was a major engineering achievement for the period. The station retains elements of its original 1932 design including exposed I-beam columns, original timber balustrades and ironwork banisters on its stairways.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Town Hall Station is associated with the development of the city underground and north shore railway network and with JJC Bradfield, designer and chief engineer for the construction of the city underground rail network and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The station is also associated with the engineering firm Dorman Long & Co, which was contracted to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I-beams on the platforms show the company's stamp.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Town Hall Station provides evidence of a period of developing railway technology and design in Australia. The scale and methods of construction represent a major feat of engineering for the period. The station retains a number of remnant original exposed structural and decorative features including steel framework beams, 1950s timber-tread escalators and original stair banisters and balustrades that reflect the original structure and layout of the station.
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]
Town Hall Station has some archaeological potential because it was constructed within the boundaries of Sydney's first burial ground, although it is highly disturbed from the construction phase of the station.
SHR Criteria f)
The World War 2 ‘Air Raid Shelter’ poster is rare and surviving physical evidence of war time use of the station. Its significance its increased by its position in its original location.
SHR Criteria g)
Town Hall Station is a good representative example of the underground development of the Sydney city railway in the 1920s and 1930s.
Integrity/Intactness: The station has a medium level of intactness in terms of layout and design, with some original features, although much has been replaced or upgraded.
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  18 Mar 10   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
S170 Heritage & Conservation Register Update2009 Godden Mackay Logan  Yes
Heritage Platforms Conservation Management Strategy2015 Australian Museum Consulting  Yes
Significance Assessment - Town Hall Timber Escalators Nos 1 & 2 and Wynyard Escalators Nos 1, 2, 3 &4. 2016 Significance International   No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenGretta Logue2013Newsletter
WrittenJohn Gunn1989Along Parallel Lines: A history of the railways of NSW 1850-1986
WrittenRichard Raxworthy1989The Unreasonable Man: The Life and Works of JJC Bradfield
WrittenShirley Fitzgerald1992Sydney: 1842-1992
WrittenSignificance International2016Significance Assessment - Town Hall Timber Escalators Nos 1 & 2 and Wynyard Escalators Nos 1, 2, 3 &4

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: 4802010

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