Sydney’s Transport History – Electrification

This time in Sydney’s Transport History we are taking a deeper look into the electrification of Sydney’s Railways.

Sydney’s Railways use an overhead electrification system at 1,500 volts direct current. The system is considered to be inferior than modern single phase alternating current equipment. This has caused problems with newer trains such as the M and A sets.

As part of Bradfield’s Railway Scheme built in the 1920s and 1930s, there were plans to electrify Sydney’s Suburban railways. These plans were designed to allow for safe running of the propsed City Circle loop that could not have steam trains using it.

The Remains of Royal National Park Station, the far southern extent of the original electrocution in 1926


The first railway in Sydney to be electrified was the Illawarra Line between Central and Loftus in the Royal National Park. The first service operated from Central to Oatley on 9 December 1926. Less than two weeks later, the first new build electric line, a new city underground from Central to St James opened on 20 December 1926, with services from the electrified Illawarra line using it.

Soon after, a number of other lines were electrified including the Bankstown Line in 1926, North Shore Line in 1927, Western Line to Parramatta and Northern Line to Hornsby in 1929 as well as the Carlingford Line to Rosehill in 1936.

Some other new build electric railways were also complete around this time with the East Hills line completed in 1931 and the Sydney Harbour Bridge lines and underground lines connecting it to Central in 1932 and later the Cronulla line branching off the Illawarra line in the late 1930s.

After Bradfield retired, it wasn’t until the 1950s that  further railways got electrified. A new station at Circular Quay complete the City Circle line which for the first time operated an underground electric loop through the Sydney CBD. Electric trains reached outside of Sydney to Lithgow via Penrith by 1957 and as far north as Gosford by 1960.

Additional suburban electrification reached Campbelltown in 1968, Riverstone in 1975, Waterfall in 1980, Macarthur in 1985 and Richmond in 1991.

On the Intercity Network, electrification reached Wyong in 1982 and later Newcastle in 1984. Trains to Port Kembla were electrified in 1985, whilst trains further south to Dapto weren’t electrified until 1996 and Kiama later still in 2002.

New build electric railways have slowly built across Sydney, with the Eastern Suburbs line to Bondi Junction opening in 1979, the East Hills to Glenfield link opening in 1987, the Olympic Park line in 1998, Airport Link in 2000, Epping Chatswood Rail Line in 2009 and the South West Rail Link in 2015.

Today all of the Suburban Sydney Trains network and a majority of the Intercity NSWTrains is electrified, with all new railways being built to electric standards. Despite this, there is still a long way to go, with thousands of kilometres of Intercity and Regional railways still reliant on diesel trains. There have been various proposals recently to extend electrification further south to Moss Vale and Nowra, west to Bathurst and North to Maitland. Whether these proposals go ahead is yet to be seen.

One Reply to “Sydney’s Transport History – Electrification”

  1. Thank you for this very interesting information . I am hoping you can tell me where the 1500 v DC power supply is generated, Is it taken from the high voltage overhead grid? If so, where are the transformers or rectifiers to step down 33KVA to 1500 v DC? Is there a substation north of Hornsby and another at Waterfall? What about the power supply to the Western line as far as Lithgow? Thank you.


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