While you might be fully aware of tunnels that you use often, there are numerous forgotten tunnels around Sydney that you might not know about. Just quietly, many rail tunnels were built for a specific purpose and then abandoned as progressive plans changed.

Abandoned railway tunnels

It seems that when constructing the railway lines around Sydney and beyond, many tunnels were constructed but never used. Here are just a few that you might not even be aware of:

  • There’s a tunnel that runs from St James Station down to Circular Quay. Part of it is flooded but there is a slight possibility the first section could be used as a pedestrian tunnel from St James to the new Metro station at Martin Place.
  • Another abandoned tunnel runs from the former Market St David Jones to the Elizabeth St David Jones.
  • Tunnels 26 and 27 are above tunnels 24 and 25 of the Illawarra Line Platform at Central station. These tunnels are complete with platforms but have no railway tracks. They were first constructed for the Southern Suburbs Railway to Mascot that never eventuated. Even the Airport rail link that was first designed to use these tunnels ended up being built elsewhere. Interestingly, these two tunnels are now occupied by Cityrail’s Central Document Storage department.
  • A rail tunnel at Redfern station also leads to two half-built platforms that were first intended for the Southern Suburbs Railway.
  • There are also tunnels under Wynyard station that were used by trams until the North Shore tram network was closed in 1958. The tramway concourse was (and may still) being used as a hotel car park. In a more dramatic use, one of the tunnels was once used as a police shooting range.
  • There is one double-line tunnel under Circular Quay that was converted into bomb shelters during World War II. The bomb shelter remains to this day in this particular tunnel even though these shelters were removed in the two single-line tunnels.

It’s interesting to note that there are almost as many abandoned railway tunnels in and around Sydney as there are used ones. This is quite an amazing thought when you think about how hard it would have been to construct some of these tunnels in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Secret tunnels used for interesting purposes

We’ve heard also of abandoned tunnels that were used for some “interesting” purposes. For example, there’s a tunnel that runs from the cellars of the Hero of Waterloo Hotel to the waterfront at Walsh Bay. It was believed that this tunnel was used to carry away drunken sailors from the hotel back to their ship.

Then there’s the tunnel that runs from the Macquarie Arms Hotel in Windsor (where if you visit you can just make out the former entrance) to the Hawkesbury River. It’s believed that this tunnel was built purely for the purpose of smuggling illicitly produced rum.

Abandoned Sydney Harbour tunnels

You might not be aware, but there were three tunnels originally cut under Sydney Harbour. The first tunnel was created to carry coal that was mined from below the Harbour floor to the Sydney Harbour Colliery, which was and still is, the deepest coal mine in Australia.

The second tunnel under Sydney Harbour ran from Long Nose Point to Greenwich. It was constructed to bring electricity to the tramway and railway systems of the North Shore from the Ultimo Power Station. You can see the northern entrance of the tunnel at the reserve on the headland of Manns Point. Look for a large concrete block placed over the entrance.

If you’re a long-term Sydney resident, you might remember an entrepreneur back in the late 80s to early 90s who used one of the abandoned tunnels under the city for growing commercial mushrooms. Even these days, mushrooms are grown commercially in an old tunnel near Picton.

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