The NSW government is looking for ideas to turn disused Sydney rail tunnels into tourist attractions

Mark Merton PhotographyThe St James station tunnels were once used as a siding for trains, but have largely been unused for 90 years.

Engineer John Bradfield’s vision for Sydney extended beyond the Harbour Bridge and in many ways was ahead of its time.

Not all of his ideas fired, but the NSW government is hoping that his century-old public transport plan could give the city a unique underground restaurant and bar scene in disused railway tunnels.

St James Station – opposite David Jones on Elizabeth Street in the CBD – was built in the 1920s, and Bradfield’s original concept included a line from the Eastern Suburbs to the Northern Beaches and west to Balmain.

Those plans were never realised. In true Sydney style, arguments over the routes scuttled the proposal (50 years later, a shorter line to the east finally arrived via a different route), and for 90 years the “ghost” platforms and tunnels at St James have mostly laid idle. They were used briefly as a pre-World War II mushroom farm before being used as an air raid shelter.

More recently they’ve had a starring role in films and on TV, including The Matrix Revolution.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance now wants to bring the disused tunnels to life, calling for expressions of interest on how to convert the site, which spans 6000 square metres, into an underground tourist attraction.

While the CBD is currently a construction site, especially around Martin Place, as the government builds they Sydney Metro underground rail network, the St James tunnels have been deemed surplus to future requirements.

“This is an exciting opportunity for interested parties to stamp their mark on a location that is part of Sydney’s heritage and the heritage of our transport system,” Constance said.

“We want ideas that could transform the platform and tunnels into a world-renowned attraction – which could include entertainment, retail or dining options.”

Mark Merton PhotographyThe disused St James station tunnel, which could be converted into a bar, restaurant or arts site.

Sydney Trains is managing the EOI process in conjunction with real estate business CBRE.

Constance lauded Bradfield’s vision saying “we now have a chance to take what he started and turn it into something that future generations can enjoy”.

The result will also become part of the state’s international tourism marketing campaign to encourage people to visit Sydney.

New York’s Grand Central station food hall and Washington DC’s Dupont arts precinct were cited as examples of the potential for the site.

Expressions of Interest close on November 6.

St James station under construction in the 1920s.

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