Argyle Street Railway Substation | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Argyle Street Railway Substation

Item details

Name of item: Argyle Street Railway Substation
Other name/s: Sydney Harbour Bridge Substation
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Utilities - Electricity
Category: Electricity Transformer/Substation
Location: Lat: -33.8579928832 Long: 151.2064328890
Primary address: Trinity Avenue, Millers Point, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP124243
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Trinity AvenueMillers PointSydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
RailCorpState Government19 Oct 05

Statement of significance:

The Argyle Street substation is of state significance as a unique and original feature of the Sydney Harbour Bridge construction. It was constructed as part of the electrification of the Sydney suburban railway network, one of 15 built between 1926 and 1932, and it continues to convert electrical power for use on the network. The building is a good example of the Inter-War Stripped Classical style and stands as a landmark industrial building in the Millers Point area. Its unpainted, cement render fa├žade is in keeping with the approach ways of the Sydney Harbour Bridge which it abuts. The substation retains a rare example of original switchgear (non-operational) in the switch house.
Date significance updated: 08 Nov 10
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: J. Bradfield and R. Freeman
Builder/Maker: Dorman, Long and Co.
Construction years: 1932-1932
Physical description: SUBSTATION (1932)
External: The Argyle Street substation, which includes the substation building, the switchhouse, transformers and surrounding electrical equipment - are all located in an area enclosed by steel mesh fencing on an escarpment above Trinity Avenue. The substation is a rendered brick, four-storey building constructed in the Inter-War Stripped Classical style and featuring steel windows with moulded and rendered sills and banded pilasters extending from ground level to a deep moulded cornice and parapet. It is accessible from the Harbour Bridge cycleway via a pair of timber doors with rendered architrave and pediment. The substation also features a double-tiered hipped roof.

Internal: The roof is supported by exposed steel trusses and a gantry supported by a steel frame. The two lower levels contain functioning electrical equipment while the control, office and amenities area is located on the two mezzanines. The ground floor is accessed via steel roller shutter doors on the north and south sides of the building, wide enough to allow equipment to be moved in and out. Internal steel stairs connect the mezzanine and ground floor levels.

External: The switchhouse, located south of the substation, is a single-storey rendered structure with steel-framed windows and a gabled hip tiled roof.

Internal: The roof is supported by exposed steel trusses. The floor is of painted concrete with painted exposed brick walls. The switchhouse includes a single example of a Reyrolle Oil Bath Motorised Switch (no longer functioning) and a row of modern switchboards.

Transformers are located outside between the main substation building and the switchhouse.

Items of moveable heritage include the Reyrolle Motorised Switch in the switchhouse. In the substation a timber phone box, a switchboard, a framed plan of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a large overhead gantry crane remain.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Good condition: Functionally sound structure.
The exterior of the Substation building is in good condition, structurally sound with no defects. Water run-off and the addition of service pipes have caused staining on the cement render, particularly rust stains from the steel-framed windows and steel mesh. Internally the buildings are in good condition with minor water damage to walls and ceiling lining. The southern wall of the substation building has a minor crack at the upper level.
Date condition updated:08 Nov 10
Modifications and dates: Post-1962 (date unknown): upgrade of transformers.
1999-2000: upgrade of 1962 transformers.
Current use: Railway electricity supply sub-station
Former use: Railway electricity supply sub-station


Historical notes: The Argyle substation and switchhouse were built as integral parts of the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge and part of the overall provision and workings towards the electrification of the Sydney railway system. The substation is constructed in a Stripped Classical style which relates to the style used on the approaches to the bridge and carries through the unpainted cement render finish. It was completed in 1932. The substation was one of 15 built during the period 1926-1932 as part of the electrification of the suburban network. Each was built to a standard design and layout, although the Argyle Street substation was externally rendered to match the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Of the 15, eight remain in operational use (2009).

As the suburban railway lines were converted from steam to electric traction, substations, located approximately 8 kilometres apart were required for efficiency in direct current (DC). A 1500 volts DC system to power the overhead conductors was adopted for the NSW Railways.

The building houses transformers originally used to convert the alternating current supplied from Ultimo and White Bay power stations to a direct current that was used for the train and tram tunnels and lighting the bridge. The original bridge lighting was installed by NSW Government Railways and was supplied to designs by the Department of Public Works. The buildings remain relatively intact externally and internally and continue to serve the Harbour Bridge and electric train tunnels.

The original Reyrolle Bath Oil Motorised Switches were replaced prior to World War II. Some time during the 1960s larger transformers from the Prince Alfred substation were transferred to Argyle Street. In 1999-2000, these transformers were in turn replaced with larger transformers to cope with increased loads. A single (non-functioning) example of the Reyrolle Switch is retained in the Argyle Street switchhouse.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was designed and constructed as the essential link in a transport scheme envisaged by JJC Bradfield and designed to enhance and promote the development of the metropolis, effectively opening up the north shore to the city and making the city more accessible. In 1924 preparations for the construction of the bridge began and as a result Dawes Point and the Rocks area was subject to a continuous stream of building work and whole streets were levelled and altered. The approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge were designed and built by the Department of Public Works and the Metropolitan Railway Construction branch of NSW Government Railways between 1924 and 1932.

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 (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Argyle Street substation is significant as an integral part of the southern approaches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and as a vital working component of the electrification of Sydney's suburban train system. It was constructed as part of the wider Sydney Harbour Bridge and suburban electrification project. The building is significant for its part in supplying electricity for the new rail network across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and is therefore associated with the social changes and effects which the bridge had in opening up Sydney's north shore.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Substation building has significance as a relatively intact and fine example of an Inter-War Stripped Classical industrial building that forms a prominent feature on the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Rocks and Millers Point areas. The building is significant for its rendered facades matching the Sydney Harbour Bridge approach ways. The Substation's prominent location emphasises its role in the service of the bridge and the railway, and acts as a landmark in the Millers Point urban landscape.
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 f)
The Argyle Street substation is a unique feature of the Sydney Harbour Bridge construction and infrastructure. Of the fifteen substations constructed between 1926 and 1932 it is the only one of its type in terms of design style and rendered finish to match the Sydney Harbour Bridge which it was built to service.

The Reyrolle Oil Bath Motorised Switches are a rare surviving example of a once standard switch type.
SHR Criteria g)
The Argyle Street substation is representative of the Inter-War Stripped Classical style used in an industrial building and of the standard design layout of the NSW Railways substations built between 1926 and 1932.
Integrity/Intactness: 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.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0102202 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     
Local Environmental PlanCSH LEP 4 07 Apr 00   

References, internet links & images


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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045307
File number: 10/16870

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