The first precast concrete station building to be constructed by the New South Wales Railways was opened at (Lake) Cargelligo in March 1918. Standard designs for railway buildings were produced by both the Signal Engineer’ Office and the Chief Civil Engineer and included:
- Type A Passenger Station Buildings (A Type; Ac.1, Ac.2, Ac.3, Ac.4 and Ac.5). Only 6 Ac. Type designs were built.
- Type P Passenger Station Buildings (P Type; Pc.1, Pc.2 and Pc.3). All three designs provided a large shelter shed for storing freight and shelter for passengers.
- Closets, urinals, lamp rooms, etc (C Type, Cc.1 and Cc.2).
Jim Longworth outlines the basic process of slab construction in his 2005 article on precast concrete railway buildings:
Construction of precast concrete buildings entailed erecting vertical posts of precast concrete with grooves in the sides for the full length (height) of the posts. Horizontal slabs also of precast concrete were lowered down the grooves, until the horizontal slabs reached the level of the top of the posts, whereupon the roof structure was erected. The slabs were mortared into place, with mortar filling both the vertical joints between the slabs and posts and horizontal joints between slabs.
Several plans specify that the concrete for the units was to be of a waterproof mixture.
Precast concrete buildings provided a number of advantages to the NSW Railways:
- Concrete buildings are more permanent structures than timber.
- Unlike timber, concrete is not vulnerable to fungal rot and white ants and is less vulnerable to fire.
- Concrete buildings provided for the continuation of established architectural design traditions.
- Construction and maintenance costs, particularly following the implementation of centralised manufacture and the use of standardised designs, were reduced.
There are a number of defining features across the different types of precast concrete railway buildings of the interwar period:
all were built from precast concrete posts and slab units;
all were single storey;
all had pitched roofs with symmetrically placed central ridge line;
all, with the exception of Type Ac.5, had roofs with gables at both ends; most (98%) were roadside platform buildings;
and, with one exception, all had awnings along the entire length of the platform side of the building.
Only one Station Building, the very first one constructed at (Lake) Cargelligo, was rendered externally to hide the concrete slab construction. Thereafter, all where left unfinished, presumably on a cost basis. The internal walls were typically unlined.
Otherwise, the types varied as to size and the type of facilities provided. Type Ac.1, Ac.2, Ac.3 and Pc.1 buildings, for example, did not provide passenger accommodation; and only two of the eight standard designs had a ticket window.
There were occasional variations to the basic plan for specific stations.
The Pc.3 Type station, as provided at Lowanna, was designed with a standard shelter shed to be used for storing freight, as well as providing shelter for ssengers. It was one of only two designs (the other being the Pc.2.) that included provision of a living room for station staff. This was a simple room with corner basin and freestanding stove; living provisions were spartan at best.
While the length of concrete slabs used in station buildings varied, two widths predominated: 15 inches (finished externally flush smooth with a narrow chamfer) or 9.5 inches (finished in a rusticated profile). The bottom slab typically projected one inch out on the outside face (to shed water clear of the footings of the building) and one inch out on the inside of the face, forming a skirting. Windows were typically fixed paned, directly into the slab, or timber-framed, sitting flush or slightly proud of the slabs. Concrete corbels typically supported timber or metal awning braces.
The concrete railway station buildings of the interwar period share some characteristics with the bungalow style then popular in domestic architecture, including low prominent pitched roofs, wide eaves overhang and exposed rafters.
The Type Pc.3 Building, however, does not display a strong affinity with domestic architecture, perhaps because engineers, not architects, designed it.
The P in the Type P design stood for portable. While designed to be portable, there are no known examples of the dismantling, transporting and re-erecting of one of these buildings during government ownership. A number, however, have been moved following the closure of lines or stations.
Precast concrete was also used for other types of structures throughout the New South Wales railway network. In addition to A. and P. class station buildings, the material was used for the construction of: signal equipment, signal lever platforms and covers, bases for elevated signal boxes, relay and transformer boxes and huts, etc; related station buildings, such as lamp rooms, urinals, extensions to existing stations; ancillary structures such as station platform faces, coal bins, washing troughs, guttering, station name boards, water tanks, fences etc.
The Men’s Toilet Block within the Lowanna Railway Station Yard would appear to be a Type Cc.1.
The use of precast concrete for station buildings ceased after 1932, but continued in use for signalling buildings after this time.