Bradfield, 75 years on – part 2: “the only woman present” – Kathleen Butler and the Bridge

As the 75th anniversary of John Bradfield’s death on 23 September 1943 approaches, I’m writing a series of posts exploring some of the ideas outlined in his 1924 engineering doctorate thesis and their relevance for Sydney a century later. Please see part 1 for the background to this series.

In his preface to his thesis for the degree of Doctor of Science in Engineering which documented his work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, construction of the underground railway and electrification of the rail network John Bradfield acknowledges the contribution of only two people.

He gives one a brief mention – Professor Warren, who taught him “the sound principles of Engineering practice” – but he is much more generous in thanking the other. After describing the establishment of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and City Transit Branch and his own appointment as Chief Engineer in 1912, Bradfield lavishes praise on the Branch’s next appointee:

The first officer appointed to the branch was Miss K.M. Butler now my Confidential Secretary: she has at all times carried out her duties with foresight, tact and marked ability. In preparing the Specification for the Sydney Harbour Bridge she was my only assistant; the technique of the Specification is hers, and I think it would be impossible to find a better arranged or better printed specification. During my absence abroad in 1922 she carried out all correspondence with tenderers throughout the world, herself; she is present at all interviews with the tenderers in Sydney and myself excepted she alone knows of the many issues involved in tendering for the bridge. Her conscientious and efficient help has materially lightened the responsibility which the design and construction of these two great engineering works have entailed, and in this Thesis I wish to place on record my sincere thanks to the lady for her invaluable assistance. (in this and all Bradfield’s quotes used in these posts his original spelling, punctuation, grammar and word capitalisation are retained)

Despite Bradfield’s generous recognition, “Miss K.M. Butler” seems to have largely slipped from public view. She doesn’t deserve this fate, not only because of her substantial contribution to the building of the bridge, but also because her story provides a fascinating perspective on the lives of working women in the early 20th Century, with some lessons for us today.

Kathleen Butler starts no. 1 compressor to commence construction of the Bridge in September 1923 (source: NSW State Archives)

Kathleen Muriel Butler was born in February 1891 in Lithgow NSW, one of seven children to an English father and Irish mother. She grew up in the Blue Mountains and attended school in Mt Victoria, where her father was stationmaster, and later Mount St. Mary’s Convent in Katoomba.* Continue reading

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Bradfield, 75 years on – part 1: the Science of Engineering

Recently I spent 10 minutes or so at Sydney’s busy suburban Strathfield Station while changing trains in the evening peak hour. As I waited I watched the synchronised dance across the station’s eight platforms as double-deck trains arrived, disgorged commuters, picked up more passengers and departed, all relatively quietly and with little fuss.

On my platform the movement was almost hypnotic, as four or five identical Waratah trains arrived in succession, stayed exactly the same length of time and then departed little more than two minutes apart. Whatever the state of the ageing Strathfield Station or the wider flaws of the Sydney transport system, the calm passage of these trains, all less than 10 years old and each carrying up to a thousand passengers, gave the impression of a reasonably modern, functional urban rail network.

My thoughts turned to John Job Crew Bradfield, the engineer whose name is inextricably linked with the development of Sydney’s transport infrastructure in the early 20th century. I don’t believe Bradfield had any special connection with Strathfield station which was opened in the 1870s, but he had a large hand in creating the electrified railway network which passes through it. He also oversaw the planning and construction of the two other key components of this network, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the underground railway in Sydney’s CBD.

Later when I was looking up some facts on Bradfield I realised that the 75th anniversary of his death on 23 September 1943 is approaching. In a modest commemoration I’ve decided to revisit not so much about the man himself, or indeed his achievements, but rather what he wrote about them. I’ll be concentrating in particular in this occasional series on Bradfield’s thesis for the degree of Doctor of Science in Engineering, which he was awarded by the University of Sydney in 1924.

Detail from the cover of Bradfield’s 1924 thesis (source: University of Sydney eScholarship Repository)

Every time I look at it (the thesis is available from the University repository) I’m struck by the extraordinary breadth of its scope – I suspect that no other thesis before or since has combined as a single subject the author’s own work in managing the planning and construction of a major bridge and an underground railway, as well as the electrification of a suburban rail network. Continue reading

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Martin Place – the “new” Sydney Central?

There have been a few developments since my earlier posts on plans for the proposed Sydney Metro West, with a strong business sector push for the metro to provide a high-speed link between Sydney CBD and Parramatta and apparent confirmation of the location of a key CBD station.

Sydney Metro West corridor (source: Sydney Metro)

I’ll deal with the high-speed metro proposal in a future article but for now I’ll concentrate on the Sydney city end of the route. The decision on CBD station location will have major implications for the CBD’s future development, centralising rail access in the city’s centre. Continue reading

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A tale of two metros: London Crossrail and Sydney Metro compared

As readers of this blog will know I have written extensively (and often critically) about the Sydney Metro. In July 2016 I published a series of articles comparing four major Australasian CBD rail projects – Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. While I plan to update this soon to reflect progress on all four projects since then, I thought I’d make a different comparison: London’s Crossrail (which will be renamed as the Elizabeth Line later this year, though I’ll use both names interchangeably here) and the Sydney Metro.

Why compare these two projects? They share a number of similarities, and of all the antipodean projects listed above, only the Sydney Metro approaches the scale of the Elizabeth Line – and in some important aspects exceeds it. And while there are a number of major metro expansion projects in other cities overseas, most notably China and India, Crossrail is one of the few that is directly comparable with Sydney’s new line (and also one of a limited number for which comprehensive information is available in English).

There are also some interesting and fundamental differences. The following discussion briefly outlines each project and their key features are also summarised in the following table.

Elizabeth Line (Crossrail)

The Elizabeth Line is 118 kilometres in length, with two branches at each end and over 21 kilometres of mostly new tunnelling. It runs from Heathrow Airport and Reading in the west through central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. There are 41 stations, all accessible, with 10 new ones and the remainder upgraded. Of these, 24 will provide interchanges with existing rail services.

Elizabeth Line route map (source: Crossrail)

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Sydney Metro’s commercialised future

What if the NSW government set up a new state-owned business corporation and handed it sweeping powers that duplicated those of several established authorities, including the power to prepare strategic plans, buy, develop and sell land, run other businesses (including bus services) and, incidentally, manage a railway system?

Well, this isn’t a hypothetical question, as the government has just pushed the Transport Administration Amendment (Sydney Metro) Bill 2018 through parliament. The legislation, which passed yesterday with little fanfare, amends the Transport Administration Act 1988 to constitute the Sydney Metro as a corporation. It also creates the Sydney Metro Board to run the new entity, which can undertake all the activities outlined above.

Why has the government done this? Setting up a government-owned corporation to oversee the development and operation of a privately-operated metro is not so surprising for a Coalition Government, but why give this new body a range of powers that goes well beyond ensuring the metro trains run on time?

Not surprisingly the opposition thinks it has the answer – the metro is being “fattened” for privatisation, a claim the government strenuously denies. However, the government may have another agenda for the Metro, one which may prove to be even more controversial.

 Sydney Metro: open for business

The legislation starts with a clear commercial focus. The “orderly and efficient development of land” near metro stations, depots and stabling yards is given equal top billing as a key objective alongside the delivery of “safe and reliable metro passenger services”.

Central Walkway at Central Station – will the new Sydney Metro Corporation be managing these sorts of projects in future? (source: NSW government – artist impression)

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Labor’s different track on the Sydney Metro – part 2: possibilities and practicalities

In my last article I looked at the broader political and policy perspectives of NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley’s recent announcement that if Labor wins the 2019 State election it will “accelerate the construction” of the Sydney Metro West line, scrapping current Government plans to convert the Bankstown to Sydenham rail line to form part of the Sydney Metro City and Southwest (Metro CSW).

Implementing this would not just be a simple matter of cancelling one metro project to build another. The Opposition has released little detail on its proposals, but in part 1 I identified three possible alternatives:

  • Two-line option: build the two Metro lines separately as currently planned, but without the Bankstown line conversion. The key decision is around where the Metro CSW line is terminated.
  • Combined single-line option: alter the plans for the both metros to combine them into a single line. This involves deciding where the two lines would join and what changes would need to be made to their alignments.
  • Postponing or cancelling the Metro City and Southwest: the most drastic alternative which would postpone or even abandon the Metro CSW and divert all funding to Metro West. This is extremely unlikely to occur as preliminary work for the line has already started, but it is a theoretical possibility.

It’s worth having a look at these options and the practical issues involved in more detail.

Two-line option

This assumes that Labor would adopt the current plans for Metro West largely unchanged. The Metro CSW would also be built from Chatswood at least to Central with a CBD interchange between the two lines as currently planned, but without the incorporation of the Sydenham to Bankstown line.

Labor Metro Options: two separate lines, indicative routes. Metro NW and CSW (Cudgegong Road to Waterloo) – magenta, Metro West (Pitt Street/Martin Place to Westmead) – yellow, interchange at Pitt St and/or Martin Place. (base map source: Transport for NSW)

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Labor’s different track on the Sydney Metro – part 1: politics and priorities

Recently the NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley announced that if Labor wins the 2019 State election it will “accelerate the construction” of the Sydney Metro West line and scrap current government plans to convert the Bankstown to Sydenham rail line to form part of the Sydney Metro City and South West (Metro CSW).

In essence this was the policy advocated by retired transport planner Dick Day in an opinion piece  which I discussed earlier this year. The Opposition Leader’s announcement endorses Day’s critique that the Bankstown line conversion is “a poorly thought out initiative” and offers a real point of policy difference with the Government, but its implementation raises some interesting questions.

Sydney’s new metro train – but not bound for Bankstown under Labor (source: Transport for NSW – detail)

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Sydney Metro West’s slow unveiling: part 2 – Minding the gap

I was going to devote my second article on Sydney Metro West to the implications of Labor’s promise to scrap the Sydenham to Bankstown section of the Sydney Metro City and South West (Metro CSW). However, the question of station spacing along the Metro West corridor has been raised in responses to my last post, in particular the large distance between stations on certain segments of the line. This raises some interesting issues around station location planning, so I’ll defer my review of Labor’s policy and look at these first.


Metros, subways, call them what you will, were first constructed in 19th and early 20th century inner cities in Europe and America to connect key destinations such as railway termini and to provide a congestion-free alternative to road transport. Consequently, the first metro stations were usually very closely spaced, often only two or three hundred metres apart.

Over time dense networks of lines and stations were developed in many of these centres. While this provided a very efficient and effective form of transport there were some downsides as both cities and networks expanded. Many systems experienced overcrowding and with such closely-spaced stations average speeds dropped considerably on longer journeys as lines were extended.

Later metro systems started to be constructed with wider-spaced stations, partly in response to these issues. Maximum walk-up catchment for a metro or other rapid transit stop came to be generally regarded as around 800 metres (this is a gross simplification of this issue – see these articles by Jarrett WalkerAlon Levy and Alan Davies for further discussion).

Suburban railways have always tended to have more widely spaced stops, though initially development was also confined to walkable distances from these stations. Transport planners also have to juggle many other factors which influence station location. These include geographic and geological constraints, the location of key centres, catchment population numbers and densities and, increasingly, the presence of other infrastructure such as older rail and motorway tunnels. Continue reading

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Sydney Metro West’s slow unveiling

The State Government’s continued gradual unveiling of station options for the Sydney Metro West line between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD is slowly revealing the final route, suggesting a middle path between a high-speed line and a traditional frequent-stopping metro.

While it is easier to see the final shape of this corridor, one factor could force a further revision – the March 2019 state election. The Opposition has promised to scrap the Bankstown Line conversion and commit instead to bring forward construction of Sydney Metro West. This raises a number of different scenarios for the final route, particularly at the eastern end.

This article will discuss the Government’s latest proposals while a future post will look at how Labor’s commitment could be implemented and the implications for plans for this corridor.

Sydney Metro routes. Source: transport for NSW

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The Sydney Metro – a better option?

After spending a large part of 2017 writing about transport issues and in particular the Government’s metro strategy, I had hoped to start 2018 on a different note. Retired transport bureaucrat and planner Dr Dick Day’s thoughtful opinion piece on these plans published last week has caused me to change my mind.

Day’s initial comments are similar to the criticisms I made in my last post and earlier articles about the Metro, in particular the inappropriateness of metro technology for a low-density corridor and the hidden and exorbitant costs of converting existing rail lines to metro operation. He also notes the disruption to the existing rail network that these conversions will cause.

Day’s main concern is the point raised by the submission he helped to write to the State Government in 2015 which was obtained by Fairfax late last year: the metro will do little to solve the existing network’s capacity problems between Strathfield and Central, even with the expensive incorporation of the Bankstown line. As Day puts it:

The Bankstown Line metro conversion represents a poorly thought out initiative that will incur considerable expenditure and disruption yet is incapable of being used to its full potential to relieve congestion on the rest of the network.

This is because in Day’s view the Bankstown line will never be able to use the considerable additional capacity provided by the Metro (unlike the original heavy rail plans which would have directed this additional capacity to relieving pressure on the congested Main South and East Hills lines). Day estimates that converting the Bankstown Line to metro operation is unlikely to provide more than about 15,000 passengers per hour even after major residential redevelopment.

Day has offered an interesting alternative. Assuming the Metro is extended through the CBD as currently planned, he has proposed that the Bankstown line conversion to metro be abandoned. Instead he suggests the Metro West line to Parramatta (currently planned as a second metro line after the entire North West to Bankstown line is built) be “reprioritised” and connected directly to the CBD Metro line.

Source: Transport for NSW

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