The last day of operations for the Sydney Monorail was 30 June 2013, marking the end of 25 years of operation for the single directional loop of track that linked the CBD to Darling Harbour. Most sources state that a total of seven stations are located on the circuit, but an eighth ‘ghost’ station exists in Chinatown, above the corner of Harbour and Goulburn Streets.
Every monorail runs express between Paddy’s Market and World Square stations, passing through a darkened shell of a tunnel.
And if you look at the 2012 version of network map, no station is marked there. So what is stop number eight?
Finding the ghost
To find the answer I explored the area at street level, where I found a ‘Monorail Station’ sign outside the ‘Number One Dixon’ shopping centre. Heading inside, I followed the stairs to the upper levels, where a set of locked glass doors prevented me from proceeding into the empty station.
Identified as ‘Chinatown’ station, behind the doors was an abandoned ticket office, with a collection of customer notices covering the windows.
Affixed to the entrance was another flyer which read:
Regular Passenger service to Chinatown Station
Sydney Monorail will run regular passenger services to Chinatown Monorail Station from 7am until 9am, Monday to Friday.
Outside these operating times the closest Monorail stations are Paddy’s Markets or World Square.
I wasn’t expecting to find a part time monorail station!
With that in mind, and a few more days still to spend in Sydney, I set my alarm for 7am the next day and returned to Chinatown station, where I found the glass doors unlocked.
Attached to one of the turnstiles was a disused Tcard reader – part of Sydney’s first attempt at a citywide smartcard ticketing system, the system was abandoned in 2007 before it was fully commissioned.
Over at the closed ticket office I found another ticketing related notice, which read:
If this station is not staffed, please make your way through the gate and purchase a ticket at your destination station.
With my photos taken and a day riding the monorail still to go, I stepped aboard the next train to arrive.
On my way around the circuit I took a photo of each station I passed through, and each time the train stopped, the station staff would stick their head out of the ticket window to see if I was going to leave the train.
Eventually on my second pass through City Centre station the ticket office attendant came up to me, asked if I had boarded at Chinatown station, and said that if I hadn’t yet bought my ticket, now was the time.
(I’m guessing the driver made a radio call when I boarded, so that the station staff knew there was a passenger on the network that needed to pay their way on exiting the station)
With my fare settled, I boarded the next train for a few more circuits of the city, and by chance I ended up on the train that stopped at Chinatown station shortly after 9am. Nobody was on the platform, but the monorail driver left the cab and entered the ticket office, presumably to lock up the doors into the station for another day.
And so ends the mystery of Sydney’s ‘ghost’ monorail station.
A history of Chinatown station
A station on the edge of the Darling Harbour precinct was included in Sydney’s original monorail proposal, being named ‘Darling Walk’ in this flyer for the TNT Harbourlink monorail from the late-1980s.
By opening day on July 21, 1988 no station had been opened on the site, but the name for the proposed stop was now ‘Gardenside': (scanned First Day Cover by user ‘TimBo’ on Flickr)
Until 1998 the Sydney Monorail operated under the ‘TNT Harbourlink’ name, but the long proposed station was never included on the map.
Eventually redevelopment of the area around the Sydney’s Chinatown caught up with the rest of the city, and so in 2001 a monorail station named ‘Garden Plaza’ finally opened on the site.
New Garden Plaza station
Metro Monorail will be officially opening the newest station on the Monorail system on October 11, 2001. Called “Garden Plaza”, the new Monorail station will be located at Harbour Street, Chinatown, opposite the Chinese Gardens and close to Chinatown and the Entertainment Centre.
Presumably the reason for the opening was the completion of the ‘Harbour Garden Towers’ complex in 2000. Located north of the monorail track, the ‘Number 1 Dixon Shopping Centre’ occupied the lower level podium and was linked to the monorail station concourse, with the apartment tower located above.
It appears business at the monorail station was slow, as less than three years later the Metro Monorail website published the following notice:
Garden Plaza station closed
July 23, 2004
From Monday July 26 2004, Garden Plaza Monorail Station, on the corner of Harbour and Goulburn Streets will close temporarily until further notice.
The closest alternative Monorail Stations will be either:-
• World Square Station on Liverpool Street between George and Pitt Streets or
• Powerhouse Station directly across from Paddy’s Market on Hay Street, Haymarket
We sincerely hope that you will continue to enjoy the Monorail as a novel experience and convenient form of transport to Darling Harbour and around the City.
During my visit to the Number One Dixon shopping centre, it had a definite ‘ghost mall’ feeling on the upper levels, so it seems little wonder that the station closed.
A evidence of the can be found in the property pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, which in 2005 detailed a change in strategy for the owners of the adjoining Number One Dixon shopping centre:
Chinatown offers new strata retail
October 1, 2005
Accord Pacific Holdings, the Australian property investment and development arm of Singapore’s Lian Huat Group, is the latest developer to tap into the resurgence of the southern CBD, with the $50 million retail strata project known as Number One Dixon.
The project, bounded by Dixon, Harbour, Goulburn and Liverpool Streets in Chinatown, is a four-level retail centre below the 197-apartment Harbour Garden Towers residential complex and Southern Cross Suites Darling Harbour Hotel.
Within the project there are 82 individual strata shops for sale. Sizes range from 4sqm kiosks to whole floors of 2044sqm.
“We felt we would have a stronger response from the market by converting the centre to strata title, so we did this over the last 12 months” said C.K. Kho, chairman of Accord Pacific Holdings.
If you read between the lines, it suggests that the shopping centre never really took off, with the owners buying out the existing leaseholders, and trying to reboot the centre by selling the shops individually.
The end of the ‘temporary closure’ of Chinatown station came in 2006, with the following announcement:
New Monorail station at Chinatown means even more for Sydney visitors
December 18, 2006
Today, on the 18th of December Sydney Monorail will open its newly named Chinatown Monorail Station in Number One Dixon Shopping Centre.
Michelle Silberman, Marketing Director, Sydney Monorail said, “Chinatown is a fantastic destination for tourists. With the Monorail now stopping right in the middle of Chinatown, visitors to Sydney can enjoy the easy access to the extensive shopping as well as some of the best Asian restaurants in Sydney.”
Miss Silberman said, “With the opening of this new station we also look forward to being able to better service the guests of our local hotel partners.”
“The new station will provide easy access to the City and the northern part of Darling Harbour for guests of the Radisson Plaza Hotel Sydney, Southern Cross Suites Darling Harbour Hotel, Holiday Inn Darling Harbour, Novotel Rockford Darling Harbour and Crown Plaza Darling Harbour.” she said.
Did the reboot of the shopping centre trigger enough patronage to reopen the station reopening? Or was it the ‘hotel partners’ that asked for it? Whatever the reason, the station was still advertised on the monorail website in September 2009, but was removed by February 2011.
An unreferenced addition to Wikipedia back in 2011 suggests that the change to weekday morning-only opening hours was made in 2010, which is as much information as I can find on the topic.
A mate of mine made the trip to Sydney during the last week of June to ride the monorail, and made his way to Chinatown station on the morning of Friday the 28th in an attempt to be the last person to board the monorail from that station. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful, as the glass doors to the platform were locked up tight.