Sunday, 10 January 2016

St James: Sydney's abandoned underground Matrix

St James Station lies beneath Sydney's leafy Hyde Park, close to the centre of the city. Opened in 1926, the underground railway station was based closely on London's underground, and almost a century later the green and cream tiles still line the walls on this City Circle Line station. However, St James Station was originally opened as an end terminus station with 4 underground platforms for arriving and departing trains. When the City Circle Line was completed in 1956, the two middle platforms were no longer needed and were simply boarded up, leaving behind ghostly tales of what became of Sydney's abandoned underground tunnels.

The original 1926 ornate wrought iron staircase leads down to St James' platforms. Photo 2015.

The main entrance to St James Station is off Elizabeth Street in the city, where an ornate Art Deco sandstone and iron subway entrance leads beneath the grassy lawns of Hyde Park. The original 1926 wrought iron stair case still leads passengers down from the ticket gates on the mezzanine floor to what appears to be an extremely wide expanse of platform. The truth is, the two middle platform were filled in during the 1990's.

The former edge of the middle platforms is still visible through the pavement. Photo taken 2015.

St James's platforms lie almost directly beneath Hyde Park's Archibald Fountain. The fountain was completed in Paris in 1926, the same year that St James Station was opened, but not unveiled in Sydney's Hyde Park until 1932. 1932 was also the year that the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a second underground railway line with stations at Town Hall and Wynyard was opened a few blocks to the west of Hyde Park. The opening of the North Shore Line across the Harbour Bridge brought to an end plans to use the two middle platforms at St James Station for an underground railway line to the west of the city. Tunnels had also been pre-constructed at St James for a planned Eastern Suburbs Line. When St James Station was connected to Wynyard via Circular Quay to complete the City Circle Line in 1956, the two middle platforms and tunnels were no longer used for regular services. In 1979 the Eastern Suburbs Line was constructed from Town Hall Station instead of following the original 1926 planned route from St James, and the former middle platforms became nothing more than a cavernous pit separating platforms 1 and 2.

The tunnel portals are now bricked up beyond the columns that once stood between the centre tracks. Photo 2015.

Even before the tunnels were boarded up, the two middle platforms filled-in and then finally bricked off from the general public in the early 1990's, the legend of Sydney's lost underground tunnels remained a bit of a mystery. The tunnels for the two former middle platforms extended roughly 250 north and south of St James Station, while another section of tunnels originally built for the Eastern Suburbs Line extended 1.5 kilometres long beneath The Domain. When this tunnel flooded, it formed a 5 metre deep underground lake that measures 10 metres wide and 1 kilometre long. Currently there are plans to use this tunnel as an underground water storage facility for recycled rainwater to irrigate the parklands in Sydney's Domain.

Standing on St James platform is like stepping onto the set of The Matrix. Photo 2015.

But whether you've heard ghostly stories of underground explorers setting off in the darkness to explore St James's abandoned tunnels, or war-time stories from the days when the incomplete tunnels were used as air-raid shelters and radio bunkers for war-time operations in the Pacific. The history of this underground London-esque railway station remains on display for any passenger boarding or alighting from a train at St James. And if you think the green and cream tiled station platform looks familiar, you're right. It was used for filming in the 2003 movie Matrix Revolutions starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Australian actor Hugo Weaving.

Sydney's modern double-deck trains only just squeeze through the tunnels at St James Station. Photo 2015.

Oh, and one other thing that might sound familiar if you've ever caught a train at St James, hold onto your hats in the few moments before the train is due to arrive. With Sydney's fleet of large double-decker trains only narrowly fitting into the underground City Circle tunnels, a strong accompanying rush of wind may be felt ahead of the headlights appearing at the end of the platform. For Sydneysiders its just an everyday part of commuting to and from work. But for a railway adventurer like me, I think its more likely caused by a rush of exhilaration before the train arrives.

St James Station was just one of the many railway stations I visited when writing my Train Tripping Around Sydney eBook. From Kiama to Katoomba and Circular Quay, my 592 km 3 day window-seat adventure is perhaps the cheapest way to experience all the fantastic places that Sydney Trains travel to.

Available now through my Books page

See also; Central: Sydney's Hallowed Railway Station

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