Local Landmark: Spotlight On Erskineville Station

September 23rd, 2022 - by Brad Gillespie

The Sydney suburb of Erskineville has a rich and fascinating history that’s seen it transform from an industrial centre into a vibrant inner-city neighbourhood with a village feel.

At the very heart of the suburb lies its local train station, with its classic heritage weatherboard entrance.

A short history of Erskineville and its station

While Erskineville was known as Macdonaldtown until 1893, the local station was already known as Erskineville Station some years earlier. There is a separate and earlier station that’s known as Macdonaldtown but it’s actually in Eveleigh. Built on the Newtown line, Macdonaldtown station was established in 1878 and rebuilt in 1892.

Erskineville Station was originally situated on the Illawarra line to Hurstville, which opened on 15 October 1884. At that time, there would have been steam locomotives on the tracks, some of which would be made or assembled at the nearby Eveleigh Railway Workshop.

In August 1885, eight months after the line opened, a station with access from Railway Parade and Burren Street was built on the north side of Erskineville Road. According to the Australian Railway Historical Society, it wasn’t much more than a ticket office and a few simple timber waiting sheds. There were no facilities for women.

In 1889, Macdonaldtown Municipal Council requested a new station and, according to news reports at the time, the resulting tender was for the erection of a passenger station and bridge at Erskineville on the South Coast Railway.

By 1890, Erskineville had its second station. It was NSW Railways’ first overhead booking and parcels office, on a road bridge suspended over the railway line. The design was what the Australian Railway Historical Society calls a “prototype” that would later be rolled out to many other Sydney stations (including Waverton, which still stands today).

During the 1890s, the road bridge was widened and, from 1909, trams to Erskineville were introduced. However, despite the increased public transport options, a growing population meant the station facilities were coming under pressure. A report from the Sun newspaper from 1912 said:

“he present Erskineville railway station is more fitted for a back-country village than for a populous district. It has a woebegone, forgotten appearance, as though it subsisted on one train a day, to witness the arrival of which all the inhabitants mustered on the platform smoking reflective (sic) cigarettes.”

Erskineville’s third station

On 16 June 1912, the third iteration of Erskineville Station was opened, this time on the south side of the road bridge. The new station consisted of a timber overhead booking office and brick platform buildings with a stationmaster’s office.

The weatherboard booking office and entrance are simple but also notable for several historical design elements. These include:

  • a transverse gabled roof
  • vertical “curtain boarding” at the road and platform entrances and exits
  • upper sash windows with nine small panes of multi-coloured glass, and
  • decorative timber “aprons” under the windows.

The federation-influenced brick platform buildings were also notable for their terracotta finials and chimney pots, and decorative brickwork with tuckpointing in the Flemish bond style.

The corbels supporting the platform awnings and multicoloured upper sash windows are architecturally interesting, especially as the name of the station features in the lower window sashes. There were also open fireplaces in the waiting room.

The Australian Railway Historical Society describes Erskineville as “an extremely rare … almost intact example of a 1912 station”, and it is listed on the State Rail Authority Section 170 Heritage and Conservation Register.

The station expands

A year later, in 1913, the lines through Erskineville were “quadruplicated”, resulting in the current four platforms we use today, effectively doubling the amount of traffic the station could handle.

The first electric trains began running on the line through Erskineville in 1926 when engineer John Bradfield’s plans for Sydney’s railways (and later the Harbour Bridge) started to come to fruition.

Abandoned plans and platforms

On its western side, Erskineville Station has two unfinished platforms. These were built as part of the Eastern Suburbs line, which opened in 1979, but the extra tracks and platforms ended up being cut from the plans to reduce costs.

Sometime in the 1960s, a Besser-block newsagency building was added to the station entrance building at road level.

Train aficionados will know that Erskineville used to receive trains from the Bankstown, East Hills and Illawarra line. Since the 1990s, it has only been served by the Bankstown line, while lines others simply pass through - including South Coast trains.

In 2018, 5,320 people used the station daily, but with the local’s area’s population rising, a Transport for NSW study forecast that annual customer demand would increase by 31% between 2017 and 2036 for the morning peak hour alone.

There will be further changes to the lines that run through Erskineville once the Metro project is completed from Chatswood via Sydenham to Bankstown in 2024.

Read more about the new Metro.

Improving accessibility

After years of lobbying by Friends of Erskineville and other community stakeholders, Erskineville Station is one of several inner west train stations currently undergoing upgrades to make it more accessible.

Due to be completed in 2023, the changes will bring the station into the 21st Century and make it easier for people to navigate by including:

  • an accessible parking space and kiss and ride spaces on Bridge Street, alongside a new pedestrian crossing and footbridge with lift and stairs connecting it to station platforms
  • lift access from the existing concourse to Platform 1, and
  • other new facilities, such as family accessible and male and female ambulant toilets, water fountains, bicycle hoops, and canopies, plus improved CCTV, lighting, signage and pathways.

Making headlines

Recently, Erskineville Station has been making news headlines for its street art and murals - commissioned or not. A mural depicting former Rural Fire Services Chief Shane Fitzsimmons was repeatedly defaced before security was increased to what the Daily Telegraph described as levels worthy of Da Vinci's last supper.

In 2022, Erskineville will be celebrating its 137th year with a station. It’s a local landmark, perched on the road bridge over the railway line, with its views to the city along the tracks.

Would you like to make the Erskineville urban village your new home? Contact my team today.

Photo credit: Wikipedia