Sydney's Central Station is Australia's busiest railway station. Each day almost 2000 trains arrive and depart, carrying 120,000 people. What very few of them, or those walking, driving and riding in the area, realise is just what goes on above and below the station.
The first Central Station opened in 1855 with one platform, the second opened on the same site in 1874 with two platforms. The third and current station opened in 1906 on 10 hectares. It has 15 original platforms. Platforms 16-19 came in 1914 and between 1916 and 1921 an additional storey and clock tower were added. Electric train platforms came between 1926-29.
The Australian Railway Historical Society of NSW runs tours of Central Station. These are not just for train enthusiasts.
Arriving at the concourse you immediately see the famous clock, under which so many people have arranged to meet. "See you under the clock at Central" was a very common phrase in days gone by. The Australian, New South Wales, greater Sydney and Australian Federation flags are on display and the marble floor has a large map of Australia depicting all its railway lines.
Tours begin on Platform 1 and groups move by freight lift or stairs to the service, or parcel, tunnels. These used to be very busy with the movement of mail, parcels, luggage and food. These days they are less busy, but still used for transporting food and garbage.
There was also once a jail, or holding cell, in the tunnels for people removed from trains for bad behaviour or prisoners being transferred between jails.
The Olympic tunnels are older service tunnels between platforms 10 and 23 which were fitted with false walls and ceilings and opened to the public just before the 2000 Games to ease pedestrian congestion.
Sitting above platforms 24 and 25 are the ghost platforms 26 and 27. They have tunnels but no tracks and were constructed when the Eastern Suburbs line was being built in 1979. They have never been used and there are no plans to do so.
Towards the end of the tour is a climb of the clock tower. There are 200 steps. After around 150 of them you reach a landing with doors and windows. Then you climb a spiral staircase to arrive at an open-air area which gives a 360º view of the city of Sydney, taking in the Sydney Cricket Ground, Mascot Airport and the Anzac Bridge.
Another spiral staircase ends right under the clock face. A few steep steps further enables you to see the workings of the clock.
On the way down the master staircase with its marble inlay, let yourself feel privileged, as it was once for the exclusive use of the Commissioner for Railways and other hierarchy. It is now a fire exit.
The tour covers about 1.5kms and takes around 90 minutes.