Old Adelaide railway station between 1869 and 1886. Photo: Samuel White Sweet (1825-1886), Wikimedia Commons.
Aerial view of Adelaide on 1 June 1935 looking south-east. The railway yards and Adelaide Railway Station are in the foreground. Adelaide foothills can be seen in the distance. Photo: D. Darian Smith, State Library of South Australia, Wikimedia Commons.
29 November 2020
Adelaide railway station stands on the same site as the city’s first station, opened in 1856. The current imposing station building was opened in 1928. Although it was once the starting point for trains to many destinations throughout the state, only suburban trains use the station today.
Adelaide to Port Adelaide railway
Construction of a railway in South Australia was discussed as early as 1839, and in March 1847 the South Australian Legislative Council passed Ordinance No. 7, which aimed to regulate the construction and operation of railways within the colony. The Adelaide City and Port Railway Company was incorporated in England in December 1848 and Mr H W Parker was appointed Attorney of the Company. He proceeded to Adelaide along with an engineer, Mr Hill, where the North Arm Company and the South Australian Railway Company had already been established. It was an era when railways were booming in England and had become very profitable. It was believed that railways in the colonies would also be a boon for investors and the local community. Parker entered into negotiations and the three companies amalgamated to form the Adelaide City and Port Railway. A survey for a railway between Adelaide and Port Adelaide was undertaken and the matter was examined by parliament. Authorisation was given in February 1850. However, disagreements within the company led to it being wound up.
Public support for a railway led to parliament approving on 3 October 1851 the establishment of a Board of Undertakers to begin work on behalf of the government. Benjamin Herschel Babbage was appointed engineer and a gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1600 mm) was decided upon. A shortage of labour meant that the cost of wages was higher than expected and the completion cost of the line was over £200,000, which was more than £25,000 a mile. Three locomotives and a number of carriages were obtained from England. Locomotive No. 1 Adelaide, ran its first trial between Port Adelaide and Adelaide on 31 January 1856.
The opening ceremony of the railway occurred on 19 April 1856 when special train conveyed the Governor, invited guests and passengers from Adelaide to Port Adelaide. A grand luncheon was held, along with speeches and toasts. The train returned to Adelaide after lunch. Regular public services commenced on 21 April.
Adelaide’s first railway station was constructed of limestone in Anglo-Italian style, with brick quoins and cornices. The roof was covered with Welsh slate and had a clock tower rising above it. A covered verandah led to the entrance. The platform area was below the street level, as remains the same today. First and second class waiting rooms, and a separate ladies waiting room, were located on the same level as the platforms. The upstairs area contained a passenger booking office, parcels office and clerical office. The platform was 192 feet (59 metres) long and 20 feet (6 metres) wide. It was laid with black and red Staffordshire tiles and had a slate roof supported by wrought iron girders. A carriage shed with a galvanised iron roof had three roads and capacity for 30 carriages, with a traverser enabling carriages to move from one road to another. The station yard had a stone goods shed that could contain 30 wagons, and featured an arched corrugated galvanised iron roof. Locomotive facilities included two turntables, the longer 40 feet (12 metres) in length, engine pits and water columns.
Upon opening of the railway between Adelaide and Port Adelaide, the timetable provided a service of six trains each day, with the exception of Sundays when there were two trains. Over time the number of services increased and the network grew, and Adelaide station busier. In 1878 a new storey was added to the station building, making it two storeys above the North Terrace level. At the same time a new double-sided platform was added, taking the number of platforms available for trains to three.
The 1878 modifications provided sufficient capacity at the time and Adelaide station remained unchanged, except for some minor alterations, until 1900. As railway traffic and the number of passengers using the station increased there was a growing need for a larger station. Work began to redevelop the station and proceeded until it was completed early in 1903. An entrance via stairs was retained on North Terrace, while there was also a level entrance from King William Road. The approach to the station from King William Road featured a large lawn with the road divided around it. An assembly platform was built at the end of the platforms. Three arches were provided to cover the assembly platform and the passenger platforms. The redeveloped station building was larger and more modern. Six platforms were now provided, with Port Adelaide line trains having a platform on each side, enabling passengers to board and alight from both sides of the train. Lamps illuminated the station at night.
In 1914 a further four platforms were added, taking the total to ten. These tracks terminated further back than the others, at the western end of a quadrangle on the northern side of the station. By the 1920s Adelaide station was again struggling to cope with the demands placed upon it. A decision was made to construct a new station on the same site. In 1924 architects Daniel Garlick and Herbert Jackman won a competition for the station design. Its foundation stone was laid by South Australian Premier, John Gunn, on 24 August 1926. The new station, which remains the current Adelaide railway station, was opened on 3 June 1928 after two and a half years of construction. Work was undertaken while the previous station continued in regular use, without major disruption to the public.
The station’s main entrance was from North Terrace, one of Adelaide’s main streets, and this remains as one of the main entrances today. Stairs lead down to the main concourse. Upon opening, the concourse led to booking offices, waiting rooms, cloak rooms, dining room with seating for 350 people, cafeteria, shops and the platform areas. Mezzanine, first, second and third floors housed administrative offices of the South Australian Railways. Total floor area of the building was 328,000 square feet (30,472 square metres). Construction of the building involved 27,000 cubic yards (20,643 cubic metres) of concrete, 1067 tons (1084 tonnes) of steel beams, girders and columns, 1186 tons (1205 tonnes) of reinforcing rods and rail, 45,200 yards (41,331 metres) of fabric reinforcement and two and a half million bricks. Completion of the new station resulted in demolition of an old goods shed that had been used for train services to and from Glenelg. The final cost of the new station was £722,830. Platforms at Adelaide station are 19 feet (5.8 metres) below the level of North Terrace. The height from the platform level to the top of the building is 97 feet (29.6 metres).
Adelaide’s new station was a grand building and was a tremendous facility for the travelling public. It was also able to house most of the administrative staff of South Australian Railways, who had previously worked in various buildings around the city. Although the new station was welcomed by many, it also attracted criticism for the considerable cost. It had been built during the era when William Webb, an American railway administrator, was Commissioner of the South Australian Railways. Webb was given the task of modernising the railways, which he achieved, but he also attracted criticism for the large expense of some of his reforms. A Royal Commission into the administration and efficiency of the railways reported in 1930 that many of Webb’s reforms were necessary, but some spending was
described as extravagant, such as the new Adelaide station.
Despite the criticism, the Adelaide station continued to operate and provide effective service for the many passengers who used it every day. Over the years the types of trains entering the station changed. Steam engines gave way to diesel locomotion, and diesel railcars began to operate frequent services, particularly in the suburban area.
Adelaide railway station was operated by South Australian Railways from 1856 when the first train ran. On 1 March 1978 South Australian Railways was disbanded, with Adelaide railway services transferred to the State Transit Authority and South Australian regional services incorporated into Australian National Railways, later shortened to Australian National. Trains of two different operators were now serviced by Adelaide station.
Australian National moved its Adelaide base to a new terminal at Keswick, 3 km from Adelaide station, in 1984. Opened on 18 May, Keswick Terminal became the terminus for regional and interstate trains. Adelaide station now serviced only suburban trains.
Another major change during the 1980s was that the upper floors of the building were refurbished and converted to a casino. Administrative staff who had been working in the building were transferred to other locations. On 12 December 1985 the redeveloped station opened with South Australia’s first casino, a function that it retains today. As part of the redevelopment the exterior of the station building was refurbished. Further changes saw the 13 platforms of the 1928 station reduced to nine, with the removal of two platforms on the northern side and two platforms on the southern side. The remaining northernmost platforms had their length reduced by 80 metres. More extensive covering was built over the platform area and extraction fans were installed to reduce exhaust fans.
Adelaide station today retains nine platforms. Platforms 1 to 3 are for trains on the Seaford and Tonsley lines, Platforms 4 and 5 are for the Belair line, Platforms 6 and 7 are for the Gawler line, and platforms 7 and 8 are for the Outer Harbor and Grange lines. South Australia first electric trains began operating on 23 February 2014 on the Adelaide–Seaford line. Platforms 1 to 3 at Adelaide station were electrified to enable the operation of Electric Multiple Unit trains. Work to electrify the Gawler line is currently underway.
A further refurbishment of Adelaide station was announced in February 2020. It will include a new entrance at the northern end, upgrading of existing areas, expansion of retail and cultural areas. Adelaide station will continue to be a vital transport hub into the future.
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Adelaide railway station building, 20 October 2006. Photo: cogdogblog, Wikimedia Commons.
Interior concourse of Adelaide railway station, 3 November 2012. Photo: orderinchaos, Wikmedia Commons.