Inside the Collection

The Goods Line – then and now

Photograph of the Goodsline bridge
Ultimo Road railway underbridge, showing the four, decorative cast-iron columns. Photo by Phillip Simpson, 2015.

Yesterday I took a stroll along Sydney’s newest pedestrian walkway, The Goods Line. It opened last Sunday (30 August 2015) and goes from the Ultimo Road railway bridge to the Museum’s new entrance in Macarthur Street, Ultimo, an inner Sydney suburb. Its route is part of the old Darling Harbour goods railway line which brought the State’s produce, especially wool, wheat and coal to waiting ships at Darling Harbour for transport around the world.

Photograph of Goods loco
Goods loco 3381 steams across the Ultimo Road underbridge with the three chimneys of Ultimo Power Station (now the Museum) in the background. Photo MAAS

This part of the line is very historic as it was constructed as a freight line at the same time as the first passenger line between Sydney to Parramatta which opened in 1855. The impetus for the State’s first railways wasn’t to carry people. It was for transporting the valuable wool clip from the interior to waiting clippers for shipment to the English textile mills; much more cost effective than the slow and expensive overland drays and wagons. The refurbished Goods Line walkway retains and interprets some remaining infrastructure elements which highlight its original construction and operation including an early arched sandstone-block culvert or drain, the Ultimo Road railway underbridge and a signal box interlocking unit.

The sandstone culvert re-erected on the walkway
The sandstone culvert re-erected on the walkway. Photo Margaret Simpson, 2015.

Mary Ann Street culvert

The culvert was excavated during digging of the TransGrid cable tunnel near Mary Ann Street. Re-erected along the walkway, it was built in 1853 and may be one of the earliest surviving pieces of infrastructure from NSW’s earliest railway construction. Fittingly, it’s not too far from the only surviving pieces of rolling stock from Sydney’s first railway, Locomotive No.1 and its first, second and third class carriages, on display in the Museum.

Detail of Base of columns showing the manufacture's name
Base of one of the columns showing the manufacture’s name, Pope Maher & Co., Photo by Phillip Simpson, 2015.

Ultimo Road railway underbridge

What a delight it now is to amble across the railway underbridge that crosses Ultimo Road, metres above the traffic without having to negotiate this busy multiple lane thoroughfare. The present bridge, built in 1879, was strengthened in 1909 with six magnificent cast-iron fluted columns made in Sydney at the Darlington Ironworks of Pope, Maher & Co. They were established by William Maher and Thomas Pope in January 1881 as engineers, blacksmiths and iron founders and their works were located opposite Darlington Public School. The bases of the columns bear the manufacturer’s name. According to Don Fraser in ‘Bridges Down Under: the history of railway underbridges in New South Wales’, this triple-girder, wrought-iron bridge was built to carry two tracks with the central one of the three-plate web girders placed between the tracks. He says it replaced an earlier timber girder bridge of 1854.

Photograph of the Ultimo Street signal box
Ultimo Street signal box and bridge in the early 1980s. Operation of the last freight train on the line was in 1984. Photo: MAAS


Signal box and interlocking machine

Along the walkway some of the workers and students from the nearby offices and university buildings were particularly interested in the multiple-handled machine, like some sort of modern art sculpture, at one end of the bridge. It’s the 36-lever frame interlocking machine which was originally housed in the old Ultimo Street signal box built in 1908.

Photograph of the Goods Line Interlocking Machine
Interlocking machine from the Ultimo Street signal box. Photo by Phillip Simpson, 2015.

Interlocking machines were multi-levered mechanical devices used in NSW railway signal boxes and on station platforms from the 1880s. They comprised a row of large levers for operating railway points and signals brought together in the one machine and were designed to prevent conflicting signal functions being set up simultaneously which might cause an accident. Before this, points were worked independently of each other, often by pointsmen in cabins stationed along the line. Unfortunately, the signal box was burnt down, the work of vandals, on 11 March 1996, and the resulting fire damage to the lever frame is still evident. Nevertheless, the Ultimo Street signal box lives on as a miniature version of it can be purchased for model railway enthusiasts as a line-side accessory for their train layouts!

Photograph of the Goods Line
The Goods Line provides a great view of UTS’ Dr Chau Chak Wing Building by Frank Gehry. Photo by Phillip Simpson, 2015.

So, what’s the verdict on the new walkway? Well I found it a relaxing yet vibrant addition to our precinct with just the right mix of industrial elements, grassy places to sit and relax and even a fun water feature adjacent to the culvert. So my daily power walk to and from the Museum’s offices up to Central station will be so much more enjoyable and safer along The Goods Line. Have you visited The Goods Line yet? What do you think of this modern reuse of an historic industrial space?

Written by Margaret Simpson, Curator, September 2015

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