This grand structure has greeted railway passengers arriving in the city for more than 80 years. Built in the 1920s, the Adelaide Railway Station marks a period of transformation in the state’s railway system. It was a celebrated achievement at the time, but it was also mired in controversy.
In the early 1920s South Australia’s railway system was in a dismal state. The state government brought out Ohio-born William Alfred Webb from the United States to make improvements.
As the new Railway Commissioner, Webb made major changes. He built stronger bridges and bought bigger locomotives. He also decentralised railway administration, giving greater control to divisional superintendents. Within a few years, he had revolutionised the state’s railways.
As part of Webb’s vision, plans for a new city station began in 1924. Although its neo-classical design was in keeping with railway stations of the 19th Century, the use of reinforced concrete was a 20th Century advance.
The building was completed by 1928. Its grand scale demonstrated the belief that it would accommodate large passenger numbers. Unfortunately, Webb did not foresee that automobiles would soon outpace rail.
Although mainly positive, Webb’s program and the building of the railway station came with a big price tag. The Railway Commissioner was heavily criticised and was the subject of debate in Parliament. His spending contributed to the near bankruptcy of the State Government by 1929. As the Great Depression set in, Webb returned to the US with a tarnished reputation.
Despite its controversial beginning, the Adelaide Railway Station is still a major transport hub in the city. It has been a landmark of North Terrace for over 80 years.