Building the Spencer Street Station subway – a history

Last week I went sniffing around Southern Cross Station, on the hunt for the remains of the pedestrian subway that until 2005 was the main access route through the station This week we go digging deeper into the history of Spencer Street Station, and the story behind the subway that ran beneath it.

Spencer Street Station Redevelopment newsletter Interchange Issue 5: May 2002

In the beginning

Spencer Street Station opened in 1859 as dead end terminus, five years after Flinders Street Station. The platform ran parallel to Spencer Street – not on an angle like today – and had a single main platform, with a dock platform at the north end. In the years that followed, the number of platforms expanded, but access was always via the southern end.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 1109

In 1888 work started on a double-track viaduct linking Spencer Street Station to Flinders Street Station, with the line opening in 1891 to goods traffic, and in 1894 to passenger trains. In conjunction with this project a through platform was provided on the western edge of the station complex.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1 item H 1501

Passengers accessing the island platform via a footbridge to the south end.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 1497

Leading them to the suburban concourse at the south end of the existing station.

VPRS 12800/P1, item H 1498

Enter the first subway

In conjunction with the electrification of the Melbourne suburban rail network, the viaduct to Flinders Street was expanded to four tracks in 1915, and between 1918 and 1924 four additional platforms were built at Spencer Street Station – today’s platforms 11 though 14.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 1507

The new platforms were west of the existing station.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 1505

With access provided by a tiled pedestrian subway.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P3, item ADV 0620

Linked to each island platform by ramps, not stairs.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 1508

Note the resemblance to the pedestrian subways at Flinders Street Station – constructed during the same period.

New LED strip lighting in the Centre Subway at Flinders Street Station

But this subway did not stretch the entire length of the station – the sub ended country platforms were still accessed via the concourse at the southern end.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P3 item ADV 1580

Leaving a ramshackle mess of station facilities for intending passengers.

Diagram from ‘Railway Transportation’ magazine

The 1960s redevelopment

Having grown organically over the years, there had been many proposals to rebuild Spencer Street Station into something befitting it’s status as the main country railway station for Melbourne. However it took the Melbourne-Albury standard gauge railway project to finally see the go ahead given for a new station, with work starting in 1960.

Victorian Railways annual report 1961-62

The new station building on Spencer Street was the most visible part of the project, but the major change for passengers was the construction of a new subways beneath the existing platforms.

Weston Langford photo

The work included:

  • suburban subway with north and south facing ramps on Spencer Street, running west beneath the existing station to the existing subway that served platforms 9 through 14;
  • a parallel country subway linking the basement of the new station building to platforms 1 through 8;
  • parcels subway at the north end of the station, providing a segregated route for parcel and baggage trolleys between the parcels office and country platforms 1 through 8.

PROV VPRS 12903/P1, Box 683/01

Work on the new station was completed in 1965.

Melbourne Spencer St 045-315 CAD sheet 03 11
Photo by Graeme Butler, part of the 1985 Melbourne Central Activities District (CAD) Conservation Study

Extension into the CBD

An eastern extension to the suburban pedestrian subway beneath Spencer Street commenced in 1973, with the tunnel breakthrough made on 18 June 1974.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 4221

Opened to pedestrians on 11 September 1975, the tunnel continued east of the station.

Subway under Spencer Street itself, looking east

Where it split to serve three exits.

Subway under Spencer Street itself, looking east

One towards Bourke Street, emerging from the Savoy Hotel on the northern corner of Spencer and Little Collins Street.

Former Spencer Street Station subway entrance via the Savoy Hotel on Spencer Street

With escalator and stairs to street level.

Savoy Hotel exit to Bourke Street from the subway under Spencer Street

A second exit with escalator and stairs led towards Collins Street, passing through the basement of MMBW House at the southern corner of Spencer and Little Collins Street.

Exit from the subway, leading onto Spencer Street from under MMBW House

And a third exit with just stairs led to Little Collins Street, emerging outside the Savoy Hotel.

Hillside Trains / Bayside Trains / V/Line sign outside Spencer Street Station

A final extension

In conjunction with the Melbourne Docklands development, the station subway was extended 80 metres west under Wurundjeri Way, to give access to the brand new Docklands Stadium.

Faded Melbourne Docklands authority branded 'Little Collins Street Subway Extension' sign opposite platform 14

Building the subway before the road made construction easier.

The subway was constructed to extend the existing Spencer Street subway. It is a reinforced concrete structure 9 metres wide to match the width of the existing subway. It extends the existing subway a distance of 80 metres.

Most of the subway was constructed using cut-and-cover construction and in-situ concrete as it was in the clear. For the section under the tracks, the reinforced concrete tunnel section was first cast alongside the tracks, and during an occupation, the material under the track was excavated and the tunnel jacked into position. A length of the cut-and-cover tunnel was first cast to provide the anchor block for the jacking operation.

With the extended subway ending at a roller door.

Docklands end of the main passenger subway, just west of Wurundjeri Way. Opened in the early 2000s and now abandoned.

The beginning of the end

The primacy of the subway for access to Spencer Street Station ended in 2000, when the Bourke Street Bridge was completed as part of the Docklands Trunk Infrastructure project.

Ian Harrison Photo, SLV H2000.184/20

The new 20 metre wide, 205 metre long pedestrian bridge stretched across the station platforms, forming an extension of Bourke Street towards the new Docklands Stadium.

Weston Langford photo

And also included escalator, stair and lift access to platforms 3/4, 9/10, 11/12 and 13/14 at Spencer Street Station.

Diagram from ‘Bridges for Melbourne Docklands Infrastructure’

The Spencer Street Station Authority was also created, to manage the redevelopment of the station.

The Spencer Street Station Authority commenced operations on 1 July 2001, having been created by legislation and supported by all sides of Parliament.

In its first 17 months, the Authority has concentrated on improvements to public safety and amenity, for the 60,000 – 70,000 people who pass through the station each day. Matters such as emergency evacuation procedures, fire services, security, cleaning and public health have been dealt with, as well as a considerable upgrade to retail facilities, seating, signage, etc.

The aging escalators between the subway and Spencer Street were one issue – so they took the cheap option of taking them out of service, and enclosing them in timber boxes.

Signage in the subway under Spencer Street itself

But inside the station itself, the subway was patched up so it could handle the growing number of users.

Spencer Street Station Redevelopment newsletter Interchange
Issue 5
May 2002

Spencer Street Station’s subway – the key artery for the station’s users – has just received a much needed facelift. The subway at Spencer Street Station, which was first opened in 1963, is the main connection to all rail platforms and will remain an important access point throughout the construction of the new station.

The Spencer Street Station Authority completed the refurbishment in March 2002, as an interim improvement before the station redevelopment. It brings the facilities up to modern standards and helps create a safer environment.

An average of 55,000 people use the station each weekday, the majority of which use the subway. It services metropolitan, country and interstate rail commuters. These numbers swell dramatically for sporting events at Colonial Stadium and other major events such as the Grand Prix, the Spring Racing Carnival and the Royal Melbourne Show.

The layout is now improved to provide for added commuter ease and security and to allow for potential greater patronage as the Docklands project develops. The central retail outlets have been relocated to the side of the subway to create greater capacity for passenger movement, and have been upgraded, giving them a new welcoming look.

New ceilings and additional lighting have been installed to create a more inviting atmosphere. Taking four months to complete, the subway works mainly took place out of peak hours to ensure a safe working environment for builders and minimal disruption to the travelling public.

The Spencer Street Station Authority still saw a need for the subway while the new station took shape around it, as well as once it was completed.

It is anticipated that construction work will begin in mid 2002 on the Spencer Street Redevelopment Project with construction proposed to be finished by mid 2005. During this period the existing pedestrian subway will be a vital, probably the only, means by which the travelling public will be able to safely gain access to and from the train platforms.

After the new station has been built, the subway will continue to have an important role for luggage transfer and other operational matters, and as a vital emergency evacuation route.

The Authority therefore made a decision to upgrade the subway, to achieve three things:

(a) to eliminate health problems by removal of asbestos and termite infestation;
(b) to open up the passageways by removing three shops from the centre aisle; and
(c) to provide better retail facilities for the public, bearing in mind that those on the two upper levels may have to be closed at certain stages during the redevelopment.

The original scope of works was expanded to meet these objectives, prior to being competitively tendered. The lowest tender of $737,938.85 (including GST) was accepted from Allmore Constructions, who had previously carried out the refurbishment of the main concourse. The Authority has since approved variations to this contract of approximately $50,000 to deal with more extensive termite damage in the subway than originally anticipated.

The improvements currently being carried out are fully funded by the Authority using revenue it generates from its retail activities and property leases, including public car parking and rentals paid by the train and bus operations.

And the end

Demolition of the old station began in 2003.

Spencer Street Station Authority photo

Temporary wiring being run through the subway.

Subway under the suburban platforms, looking east from platforms 11 and 12

And holes punched in the access ramps to allow the new roof to be built overhead.

Subway ramp from platform 13/14, altered for the roof supports

As late as 2005 shops inside the subway were still open to serve passengers.

Country section of the subway under the station looking east

But as the project progressed, they were progressively closed.

Country section of the subway, looking back west to the suburban section

In May 2005 the subway beneath Spencer Street was closed.

Spencer Street Station Authority media release
Friday 20 May, 2005


Spencer Street Station is continuing its transformation into a world class station, with the Spencer Street Station Authority today announcing external access to station platforms through its 80 year old subway will close from Saturday 28 May 2005.

The Authority’s Chief Executive, Tony Canavan, said that the subway closure would coincide with the partial opening of a new passenger facility on Collins Street with limited access to metropolitan platforms.

“Change is in the air at Spencer Street, with the spectacular roof taking shape and now the closure of subway access to the station to allow construction works to continue. “Many metropolitan passengers will have a small taste of the new look station with the partial opening of the Collins Street Concourse, which will eventually provide access to all metropolitan train services at the station.”

Mr Canavan urged Spencer Street Station users to be aware of the best entrance points to the station following the subway closure on 28 May 2005. The clear message for metropolitan rail users is that the Bourke Street Bridge is now the best entrance point while construction continues at the station.

Mr Canavan said the closure of subway access to the station means that station users will use pedestrian crossings at Collins Street and Bourke Streets to cross Spencer Street. “We are working closely with VicRoads and will monitor crossing times carefully once these changes take place to ensure a safe and smooth flow of people,” said Mr Canavan.

Mr Canavan thanked station users for their patience and understanding during the construction and in light of ongoing changes at the station in the months to come. “This really is a case of some inconvenience in the short term, in order to deliver improved services and facilities for the future,” he said. “The closure of external subway access to the station is essential to the redevelopment, and will eventually see the dark and ageing subway replaced with wide open entrances to improve safety and access.”

In the months that followed, access to country platforms 1 through 8 was changed to be via the new ground level concourse at the Collins Street end.

New departure information boards working

And access to suburban platforms 9 through 14 changed to the new elevated Collins Street concourse.

Platform 9/10 before demolition at Spencer Street

However the subway remained open for passenger interchange for a few more months.

Subway under the suburban platforms, looking west

The western end closed to the public.

Western end of the suburban subway closed to the public

As well as the section towards the country platforms.

Subway under the suburban platforms looking east, no access to the country platforms

My last visit was on 24 July 2005, with public access ending very soon after.

Today the subway remains in place, but for the use of staff only.

Travellers Aid buggy heads into the subway from platform 9 and 10

Footnote – where did the subway go?

The July 2001 ‘Spencer Street Station Redevelopment Planning Study’ details the extent of the subway network.

There are two main subway systems accessing station platforms.

The passenger access subway extends some 300m from entrances to the city side of Spencer Street to a single entrance at Wurundjeri way. The subway width varies from about 9m to 14m, and the floor is some 4m below the general track level of RL 8.0. It grades gradually from east to west. Ramps (at slope 1:12) provide passenger access to all platforms. Several 9.0m deep alcoves on the southern side of the subway, below the regional platforms, house various businesses and services. The access from Wurundjeri Way (Docklands) is currently used only for events at the Stadium.

A baggage handling tunnel runs the full length of platform 1, below the platform, and links the basement in the main building to an access ramp on the southern concourse and a cross track tunnel to the north. There are also access ramps to regional platforms. Levels are similar to the main pedestrian subway. An additional baggage tunnel branches off the main subway at Platform 8 and links to access ramps to suburban island platforms.

How many shops were down there?

The planning study also listed the tenants of the subway, and the total area they occupied.

Subway Ticket sales area – 340 sq.m.

13 vending machines – 13 sq.m.

Commonwealth Bank Autobank – 2 sq.m.

Subway newsagency – 16 sq.m.

Subway snacks – 205 sq.m.

Mrs M Ireland’s Florist – 16 sq.m.

Tattersalls – 16 sq.m.

Subway clothing shop – 72 sq.m.

Toilets – 30 sq.m.

Other retail spaces – 180 sq.m.

Circulation, ramps etc. – 5,510 sq.m.

Total – 6,400 sq.m.

And how many people used it?

The same study also included the result of a pedestrian count completed on 24 November 2000, showing the routes used to access the station – noting that the subway east under Spencer Street was closed at weekends.

Entrance/exit Pedestrians Percentage
Spencer Street subway 18,920 40%
Bourke Street intersection 9,744 21%
Ramp to Spencer Street south 9,104 19%
Coach Station 8,201 17%
Ramp to Spencer Street north 1,567 3%
Bourke Street pedestrian bridge 82 0%
Total 47,618 100%

And noted the lack of capacity for future growth.

A recent survey of use indicates that the passenger access subway under Spencer Street facilitates about 19,000 movements on a Friday (40% of total station movements) with 7,000 occurring in the peak hour. Daily movements in the main subway within the Station were recorded at 34,000.

With projected levels of growth it is only a matter of time before the capacity of the current subways is inadequate. Optional responses to this situation would include:
· enlarging the existing subway;
· constructing an additional subway; and
· providing another form of platform access, such as an elevated concourse.

Fast forward to 2016, and now the rebuilt station is already at capacity – some great forward planning there!

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3 Responses to “Building the Spencer Street Station subway – a history”

  1. Tom the first and best says:

    I am firmly in the “I will disagree with permanently closing the subway to passengers, unless compelling evidence is shown to be the keeping the 1960s northern subway as the subway for those service vehicles and the passenger subway open to passengers was not viable” camp.

  2. […] By July 2021 piece on the remains of the Spencer Street Station subway also got a run, alongside my follow up piece Building the Spencer Street Station subway – a history. […]

  3. […] remained in place until the 1960s renovation of the station which saw the bulk of it removed, except for platform 8 – spared thanks to the L class […]

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