For 76 years the indicator board, which stood on the huge assembly platform of Sydney Terminal Station, also called Central Station, was an integral part of the history of the NSW railways. It comprises 22 vertical panels on which passenger train information was displayed, particularly the departure time, platform number and station names at which trains would stop. It was entirely mechanically operated from floor level by station staff through a series of rods, reduction gears, cranks and counterweights.
It is of particular sentimental value to hundreds and thousands of New South Wales residents and visitors and was a popular meeting spot especially during the First and Second World Wars.
The board was built at the Signal Interlocking Shop of the NSW Government Railways at Redfern in 1906 for Sydney's third terminal station, for which the foundation stone was laid in April 1902. The building was officially opened on Saturday, 4 August 1906.
The narrow vertical and horizontal strips between the panels, clocks and platforms rolls were originally stained and lacquered. It had decorative features in the classical revival style. Some time before 1937 the dark-stained timberwork on the board was painted cream, chocolate and caramel. Around 1945 major changes were made to modernise the board. All the neo-classical ornamentation was removed and replaced with Art Deco features. During this modernisation fluorescent lights were added to the top of the board on a canopy.
In 1982 the State Rail Authority of NSW, with considerable reluctance, replaced the indicator board with twenty 66 cm television monitors combined in pairs to display 10 train departures complete with stopping patterns, departure times and platform numbers. In order to preserve the board, the Authority presented it to the Museum. Its dismantling and removal from Sydney Terminal Station took place on the Monday night of the 28 June 1982 and the early morning of Tuesday 29 June, the same night as the changeover to the television monitors.
Two years later the board was re-erected in the Museum's workshop and repairs to the timberwork were undertaken. Considerable research was carried out and it was decided to restore the board as closely as possible to its appearance in 1937. At this time it was finished in the cream, chocolate and caramel colour scheme, yet still retained its decorative late Victorian embellishments. Timetables and platform listings for 1937 were researched and train departures for a Sunday in 1937 drawn up.
In order to show the optimum number of panels and stations, the board was set up to represent an entire Sunday in 1937, rather than as it would have appeared exactly at any particular time. Because the board has evolved over time and changed considerably in response to electrification, extension and closure of lines and stations, a large number of slats bearing station names had to be added or removed. Colour samples were taken and analysed from all over the board, and it was repainted in appropriate colours. Decorative metalwork was reproduced from enlarged photographs and plans and replaced next to the clock and on the board ends.
Since 1988 the indicator board has been the centrepiece of the Transport exhibition in the Powerhouse Museum, recalling the halcyon days of the NSW railways when trains such as the Brisbane Limited and Caves Express, and the mortuary train to Rookwood, were familiar sights.
Assistant Curator, Transport