Leveraging Sydney Central Station in the over-rail precinct

Published: December 13, 2022Categories: Architecture, Movement & Transport, Public SpacesTags:


A 24-hectare deck over the rail yards at Sydney’s Central Station will create a new precinct on the southern edge of the city’s CBD. The masterplan fails to meaningfully integrate the historic station –  cutting it off from the new precinct, downgrading its significance and missing a critical place-making opportunity.

About the Author

Troy Uleman is Director of John McAslan + Partners, a global architectural and urban design practice with studios in Sydney, London and Edinburgh, and is the Sydney Studio Leader. He has over 25 years of experience with sensitive and complex transport, cultural, university, commercial, urban design and master planning projects. His work on rail infrastructure in Australia includes the Sydney Central Metro upgrade and Waterloo Station as part of Sydney Metro.


The long-awaited indicative master plan for the precinct over the rail yards at Sydney’s Central Station has been released. It unveils the vision for a bold, new neighbourhood to the south of the CBD.

Whilst there’s much to like, the plan sadly fails the station itself, by diminishing its inherent value and missing the opportunity to leverage it as a vital ingredient of place-making.

Central Station is the catalyst for the new over rail development and should be its beating heart. One of the world’s busiest stations, it delivers millions of people from the country and suburbs alike to the doorstep of the city. Its historic buildings are rich in social heritage and deeply embedded in the communal memory of our city. Physically, the station’s scale, materials and architecture create a unique sense of place. Central is what gives this pocket of Sydney its identity.

Walter Liberty Vernon’s Sydney Central railway station, seen from the west, was completed in 1906 and features a landmark clocktower. Image: Brett Boardman

Yet the indicative masterplan pushes the proposed development up against Central’s southern perimeter, taking away its breathing space and showing it little regard.

Precinct master plan – a still from the Transport for NSW Central Precinct Renewal Program video shows the over-rail deck hard up against the southern perimeter of Central Station.

The dramatic level change between the station and the proposal is addressed by steep banks of stairs which lead up from the Grand Concourse, visually and physically disconnecting the station from the new precinct. The station is effectively reduced to a funnel for people.

A still from the Transport for NSW Central Precinct Renewal Program video shows the steep stairs (on the right) leading from the Grand Concourse to the over-rail deck.

This lack of acknowledgement for the station and its role over time means the development simply overrides it, in some places literally.

Minister for Cities Rob Stokes has announced that Sydney Central is to be re-vamped under the Sydney Terminal Building Revitalisation project, with glass roof-lights to the Grand Concourse, pop-up retail, hospitality and events, and landscaping and outdoor furniture. TAHE CEO Benedicte Colin says this will “turn the station into a global, modern destination with exciting retail, bar and dining options, better outdoor spaces for travellers to unwind while improving accessibility options to the station.” (TAHE, previously RailCorp, is currently the State Government’s Transport Asset Holding Entity).

A more careful understanding of Walter Liberty Vernon’s nineteenth-century original masterplan and terminus hints at other solutions. The objective must be to enhance the station as an integrated – not isolated – destination, connecting neighbourhoods across the station, Surry Hills to Chippendale and Ultimo, Haymarket to Redfern, and presenting the station as an attractor that will anchor this new place to the city.

Our vision would look to connect more broadly to the landscape, creating a natural sequence of terraces, spaces and places that merge the station and its neighbourhood into the new precinct rather than it being disconnected from the over rail deck high above.

It should be a contemporary extension of the station, creating places to pause, connect, dine, and recharge, capitalising on what exists and respecting the station’s scale, materials and history. The people of Sydney have been using the station in this way for more than a century. Central Station should be hosting the party, not left at the door.

The template for this is Kings Cross in London, where John McAslan + Partners were responsible for the design of a striking steel canopy described as one of London’s most successful place-making initiatives. Forming an iconic gateway to an adjacent, large-scale urban redevelopment, Kings Cross demonstrates the value of rail stations as more than just places to move people from A to B. They are equitable, public spaces that should benefit the community and be given their rightful role within the city’s social fabric.

Kings Cross Station in London by John McAslan + Partners is an exemplar for successful place-making, forming an iconic gateway to an adjacent, large-scale urban redevelopment and demonstrating the value of rail stations as more than just places to move people from A to B. Image: Hufton + Crow

We are excited by the potential of the over rail development to contribute to the future urban grain of Sydney and connect east and west. Let’s be mindful of creating places where people want to be and think carefully about how these places feel on the ground at a human scale; how they connect more broadly; and what they give back to the city over time. Working with and enhancing what exists is not only more sustainable, it will also go a long way to retaining what is ‘uniquely Sydney’ and ensuring that the new precinct will truly benefit city’s people.