Sydney Architecture Images- Central Business District

St. James railway station


George McRae (NSWGA)


south of Hyde Park at the top of Market Street




Inter-War Stripped Classical


stone facade, glazed interior, steel and concrete structure.


railway station Subterranean Sydney
  Main entry and historic architectural rendering of the main concourse.
  Interior, and during construction.
The famous tunnels--Special thanks to
  The ABC sound-effect gong in one of the bomb shelters.
  The side of the tunnels devoted to WW2 bomb shelters.
  The way to the lake through a shunting tunnel
  The lake under Hyde Park (I used to swim there as a schoolboy- very clear beautiful water).
  Special thanks to
St. James is a railway station on the City Circle line in Sydney, Australia. The station is named after St James Church, which sits above the underground station. The area around the church and station, to the north of Hyde Park, is also informally known as "St James". St. James parish was one of the 57 parishes of Cumberland County, which were proclaimed in the 1830s, and still used for land titles in the area. The station is entirely underground, and located at the northern end of Hyde Park. The rails are 12.2 metres (40 ft) below the surface. Regular services to St James began on 20 December 1926.

The original construction of St James had two island platforms, each 158.5 metres (520 ft) long and 8.5 metres (28 ft) wide. Rails have only ever been laid to the outer sides of these platforms. In the late 1990s, the inner two sides were connected by a surface level with the platforms thus creating one large island platform with a width of 25.3 metres (83 ft) (the length is still 158.5 metres). For the first 30 years of the station's life, prior to the compeletion of the City Circle, St James was a terminating station for trains on the Bankstown, East Hills and Illawarra lines. The now unused tunnels north of St James were originally used as dead-end terminating tracks- trains would empty at the inbound platform, then proceed over a connection into the double-track tunnel between the present running lines, where they could access either of two parallel tracks via two tandem cross-overs. The train would have taken on a new driver in the rear cab, and as soon as it stopped, bell codes would be exchanged between the drivers, and the train would move to the outbound track and into the platform. In peak hours, around 30 trains per hour could be reversed by this process. This process came to an end when the extension to Circular Quay opened in 1956, allowing through-running of trains around the City Circle. The last train to officially use these tunnels was in 1996.

Underground tunnels
St. James, while something of a backwater today, was originally intended to be a major interchange station with the eastern suburbs railway line as proposed under the Bradfield Plan. As a result, St James has several abandoned tunnels, one of which has flooded and produced an underground lake. St. James station was designed to support four tunnels, but only two were ever constructed. The remaining two are stubs, which lead some way off from the station but then abruptly end. The intention behind this was that if they later decided to use these tunnels, they could extend them without causing interference with St. James station, thus permitting it to remain in operation. However, due to changes in the State Government's transportation plans over the last eighty years, the tunnels are unlikely to ever be extended.

Despite not going anywhere, they have still seen a significant amount of use over the years. This has included use as a mushroom farm (prior to the construction of Circular Quay station, the main tunnels heading there were disused as well; all four tunnels in that direction were leased by the State Rail Authority to a mushroom farmer) and a World War II bomb shelter.

The two disused tunnels lead off both to the north and south of St. James station, in between the two tunnels currently in use. The platform of St. James Station is in fact two separate island platforms, with a space between them for the tunnel tracks; but this space has been covered over with a false floor, giving the appearance of a single platform.

The tunnel heading towards Central via Museum that were prepared to be used as civilian air-raid shelters still has some sections divided by concrete walls, these were constructed in World War II to protect against bomb blasts. They also have interesting passages running between them, designed to stop the force of an explosion in one chamber travelling into the adjacent chambers. Immediately after World War II, the soldiers who had run the bomb shelters in the tunnels were set to work demolishing them, primarily to give them something to occupy themselves with until they could be demobilised. But the work was never completed; several of the chambers in the tunnels still contain piles of rubble the soldiers left behind. They also left graffiti on the tunnel walls.

Other interesting uses for the tunnels have included its use by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) sound engineers in the 1960s to fake the sound of Big Ben for a TV series. The large bell they used to do this still sits in the tunnels today. They also used it to film one episode of the early 1990s Australian TV series "Police Rescue". They painted some colourful and rather nasty looking graffiti on one of the walls separating the bomb shelter chambers, to serve as a backdrop to the climax of the episode (the rescue of a boy lost in a storm water drain).

At the southern end the tunnels grow progressively narrower and begin to rise above the two tunnels currently in use and finally come to an end. In the northern direction, the two single tunnels open up into a double track tunnel, beneath Macquarie Street, adjacent to the New South Wales Parliament House and State Library of New South Wales that ends in a large rock face; this however is not the end of the tunnel. Two smaller 'pilot' tunnels lead into the rock face; the one at floor level which extends only a few meters before ending, the several meters above the tunnel floor which passes through the rock face before opening at another chamber at the other side.

From the chamber opposite the rock face a shaft leads directly up to a small segment of road between the State Library and the Royal Botanic Gardens called Shakespeare Place. This is due to the fact that the tunnel was originally built from two directions, one from St. James station in the South and the other from Shakespeare Place in the north; however the two segments of the tunnels were never properly joined and were connected by a small passageway. During World War II a stair case lead down the shaft from street level and into the tunnel which was secretly used as an operations bunker for No. 1 Fighter Sector RAAF by the RAAF.[1] The facilities inside the tunnel/operations bunker were connected to radar stations, weather signals, movements from airports, army and Volunteer Air Observer Corps reporting posts, air raid sirens and blackout control. A large table carried a map of the New South Wales coast and adjoining areas, on which WAAAF plotted movements of aircraft and shipping.

Many of the workers became sick from working in the tunnel, so the base was eventually transferred to a picture theatre in Bankstown, (The Capital Theatre) and then to an underground facility in Condell Park (the Bankstown Bunker). The staircase that spiralled down the shaft and into the operations facilities was destroyed by fire in the 1960s. The shaft was covered at street level after WW2. When looking up from inside the shaft, thin cracks of sunlight can be seen around the edges of the former entrance.

Tours of the tunnels have at times been run by the Australian Railway Historical Society, with the approval of the State Rail Authority. Many others have visited them unofficially (and illegally), by walking down the used subway tracks until passages leading between the used and disused tunnels are reached.

During 2006 it was proposed that the northern unused tunnels be used as a reservoir for irrigation water for The Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens.[2] In early 2007, NSW Premier Morris Iemma announced plans to use the water collected in this tunnel at Parliament House (on Macquarie St). The plan includes draining all storm water collected from Parliament, the State Library and Sydney Hospital (all on Macquarie St) into the water collecting tunnels.[3] 


No. 1 Fighter Sector Headquarters RAAF, later known as No. 101 Fighter Control Unit RAAF
Wendy, Frew. "Solution to water crisis is history", 
McDougall, Bruce. "Underground lake gives hope"