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Sydney, the largest city in Australia, has an extensive network of passenger and freight railways. The passenger network is a hybrid metro-suburban railway with a central underground core running at metro style frequencies, which branches out into a suburban commuter type network. The system also carries freight, and there is a separate network of freight lines, some of which are disused.
Passenger service is operated in Sydney by Sydney Trains (launched 1 July 2013). Trains operate for 20 hours a day, and over 1 million weekday passenger journeys are made on 2365 daily services over 2080 km of track and through 306 stations (including interurban lines). Suburban services operates along the portions of the main lines from Sydney to the north, west, south and south-west, and also along several dedicated suburban lines. All of these lines are electrified at overhead 1500 V DC, starting in 1926.
Most suburban services operate through central Sydney via the underground City Circle (a horseshoe-shaped line), the Eastern Suburbs underground line, or over the Harbour Bridge. There are long term plans for a new underground line passing beneath Pitt Street to a new harbour crossing (known as MetroPitt), and a long-standing concept for a new underground line that will pass down the western side of the central business district (known as MetroWest). Whether either of these will be built remains to be seen.
Timetables are published for all lines, and most lines run on headways of 15 minutes in peak periods, half-hourly off-peak and weekends. Headways are closer over shared routes. Although frequencies match metro style operation in the city core, few Sydneysiders use the underground network as a metro, most journeys being commuter trips from suburbs into the central city area. An exception to this is the Eastern Suburbs line which serves the high density inner eastern suburbs and opened in 1979.
All suburban passenger trains in Sydney are double-deck electric multiple units. Upon electrification in the 1920s Sydney operated single-deck multiple units but these were progressively withdrawn from the 1960s until their final demise in 1993. Single-deck cars may be reintroduced if the proposed 'metro' lines are constructed.
Electric cars are maintained at depots at Hornsby in the northern suburbs, Mortdale in the southern suburbs, and Flemington in the western suburbs. A depot at Punchbowl in the southwest closed in 1994 and has since been demolished. These four depots were all built and opened with the opening of electrified services in the 1920s.
Heavy maintenance of passenger cars was carried out at the Suburban Car Workshops at Redfern, now closed. Heavy maintenance is now contracted out to Maintrain, a private company with workshops at Clyde. All M (known as "Millennium") and H (known as "Oscar", for Outer Suburban CAR) Sets are maintained at Eveleigh Depot, which is located near Redfern.
Freight services operate over most of the suburban railway lines in Sydney, however due to the high frequency of passenger services and the lack of freight only tracks, there is a curfew on freight movements during peak hours.
The major interstate freight routes are the Main Southern and Main North lines, with the Illawarra and Main Western lines serving lineside industries and as alternate interstate routes. In the inner city area the Metropolitan Goods Lines connects major freight terminals to the main passenger lines and the Southern Sydney Freight Line which runs parallel to the Main South line from the western end of the Metropolitan Goods Lines to a point beyond the end of suburban services. As of 2013, construction of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor is under way. This is a series of projects along the Main Northern line between Sydney and Newcastle aimed at increasing the number of freight trains operating along the route.
The main traffic is containerised freight. The main intermodal terminal are at Camellia, Leightonfield, Yennora and Minto. Interstate train to Sydney terminals are up to 1500 metres long, while short-haul container trains from the terminals to the Port Botany seaport are around 600 metres long. Coal services to Port Kembla are another major traffic. Freight operators include Pacific National, QRNational, Independent Rail, Australian Railroad Group, Southern and Silverton Rail and Patrick Port Logistics.
The first railway in Sydney was opened in 1855 between Sydney and Granville, now a suburb of Sydney but then a major agricultural centre. The railway formed the basis of the New South Wales Government Railways. Passenger and freight services were operated from the beginning. By 1880, there was half hourly service to Homebush.
In 1884, the railway opened from Strathfield to Hornsby. The North Shore line opened in 1893 to a harbour side station at Milson's Point, and was originally built because parliament thought it would be a shorter route for country produce from the north to Sydney Harbour (a role it has never fulfilled). Sydney's first deliberately suburban railway was a line to Belmore which opened in 1896 and was soon extended to Bankstown.
Sydney's suburban passenger service was severely hampered by the inconvenient location of its city terminus, at a site south of Devonshire Street. Most of Sydney's population was well served by trams, and the suburban railways had relatively little initial role to play. This was to change in the 1920s.
The railway system as it exists today is really the result of the vision and foresight of John Bradfield, one of Australia's most respected and famous civil engineers. He was involved in the design and construction of Sydney underground railways in the 1920s and 1930s, but he is more famous for the associated design and construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
New South Wales uses an overhead electrification system at 1,500 volts direct current. Whilst inferior to and more expensive than modern single phase alternating current equipment, it was in vogue during the 1920s and is generally sufficient for the operation of electric multiple unit trains. However, the introduction of powerful electric locomotives in the 1950s, followed by the Millennium train in 2002, revealed drawbacks in this antiquated system of electrification. As the voltage is relatively low, high currents are required to supply a given amount of power, which necessitates the use of very heavy duty cabling and substation equipment. Until the retirement of electric locomotives from freight service in the 1990s, it was often necessary to observe a "power margin" to ensure that substations were not overloaded. This situation was similar to that which applied to The Milwaukee Road's 3,000 VDC electrification. Plans to electrify the Hunter Valley at 25 kV alternating current were abandoned in the 1990s.
Electrification came to Sydney's suburbs in 1926 with the first suburban electric service running between Central station and Oatley on the Illawarra line. In the same year, the first underground railway was constructed north from Central station to St James in Sydney's central business district. Electric trains that had previously terminated at Central station continued north, diving underground at the Goulburn Street tunnel portal, stopping at Museum station and then terminating at St James. Other lines were soon electrified. Also, in conjunction with the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge which opened in 1932, an additional four-track underground line was constructed from Central station to Town Hall and Wynyard. Two of the tracks continued over the Harbour Bridge connecting to the North Shore line.
It was only in 1956 that the two tracks terminating at Wynyard were linked to the line terminating at St James via the Circular Quay viaduct. This new arrangement, dubbed the City Circle, allowed services to make a continuous run through the city and return to the suburbs without having to terminate.
New electrified lines were built:
The rail network in the metropolitan area of Sydney is owned, maintained and operated by RailCorp, a NSW State Government owned corporation. Third party access to Railcorp's tracks by other freight operators is allowed under an open-access arrangement. Track outside the Sydney metropolitan area is operated and maintained by the Australian Rail Track Corporation. RailCorp operates passenger trains under the Sydney Trains brand, and long distance trains run through Sydney under the NSW Trains brand.
RailCorp was formed on 1 January 2004 by the merger of the State Rail Authority (SRA) and the metropolitan functions of the Rail Infrastructure Corporation. Until 1972, railways in NSW were operated by the New South Wales Government Railways until this department was replaced by the Public Transport Commission (PTC), which was also responsible for bus and ferry services. In 1980 the PTC was broken up into the State Rail Authority, responsible for rail services, and the Urban Transit Authority (UTA), responsible for bus and ferry services. The UTA later became the State Transit Authority.
In 2001, the State Rail Authority had its 'above track' operations separated from its track ownership and maintenance operations. The track maintenance operations and track ownership were moved to the new Rail Infrastructure Corporation (RIC). However this separation into a horizontally operated rail system was criticised for the passing of blame for rail delays and accidents between authorities, and in 2004 railways in Sydney became a vertically operated system again with the creation of Railcorp, a fusion of the State Rail Authority and the urban sections of the RIC.
The railways in Sydney generally use British-derived terminology.
Four main 'trunk' lines radiate from Sydney to the north, south, west, and southwest:
Other passenger lines branch from or interconnect with the four main lines:
Several railway lines carry goods only:
There are several closed lines in Sydney:
The following lines have been proposed or are under construction:
Sydney has four underground lines.
Sydney has several disused tunnels. The best known of these are those leading out of St James station. There are also several disused tunnels and platforms on the Eastern Suburbs line, which like St James station provided for the possibility of four tunnels even though only two are in use. There is a stub tunnel at North Sydney railway station, north of platform 2, for a never constructed Manly to Mona Vale line..
From the top of the northern stair to platform 10 at Redfern Station it is possible to view the unfinished structure for the low-level "up" (toward Central) Southern Suburbs platforms. The associated never-used tunnels are quite complex. Immediately to your left is the (surface level) stub tunnel for the "down" Southern Suburbs track. This short tunnel exits on the northern side of Lawson Street road bridge. There are at least nine railway tunnels under the suburb of Redfern: some in use, some never used.
Platforms 26 and 27 at Central lie above the Eastern Suburbs Railway platforms and have never been used for trains. Like St. James station, these stations have stub tunnels, although they are much shorter.
There are three tunnels for the old Pyrmont goods line, not part of the passenger railway system. One runs underneath Railway Square, near the Central station railway yards. For a time, the line was used to service the Powerhouse Museum. The corridor adjacent to the tunnel is now a pedestrian pathway, the tunnel itself is disused. The second tunnel runs underneath Glebe and is now part of the Dulwich Hill light rail line from Central station (see Metropolitan Goods Line). The third tunnel was created in 2000 when an extension to the City West Link Road through Leichhardt was built on top of a cutting. This is also now used by the light rail.
Also of interest is a tunnel connecting the Eveleigh rail yards, on the southern side of the main line, to the northern side of the main line, just past Redfern.