The image above is a beautifully captured glimpse into what Sydney Station, now known as Central Station, looked like in days of yesteryear. It is an intriguing glimpse though, showing something which most passengers would likely not have seen, or at the very least, not noticed.
The site where Central Station now stands preserves evidence of the very first phase of railway in NSW. Not only does it encapsulate the changes from steam to electric railways, but also changes in the technology which has been used for signalling. Over time Central has had a variety of signal practises, including the signal boxes pictured above. Signalling had not always been part of railway practice in Australia. In the earliest years it had seemingly been assumed that trains would, if they kept to the time table, and even if they operated on the same line, not crash into one another. The earliest use of signalling came in the late 1870s, when there had been several very close misses between trains. Then, in 1878 two trains collided at Emu Plains, and this crash (which killed three) put an end to trains running on single lines. As more lines were introduced, and the system became more complex, signalling became vital to safely running the railway system.
In 1906, when Central Station expanded to include platforms 9 and 10 four signal boxes had to be added. These were overhead signal boxes which used a mechanical system for signalling, but in 1910 electro-pneumatic technology was introduced and only 2 signal boxes were needed. By the 1920s the signal boxes were vital parts of the complex railway system at Central, which had complicated lines, cross overs, junctions and points. The signal boxes kept the passengers, and the valuable railway system and machines themselves safe.