So claimed Reece Jennings in his book on W.A. Webb, railways commissioner from 1922 to 1930. An energetic and ambitious American, Webb had inherited an abysmally run-down, archaic system. He embarked on a program of large-scale construction and upgrading that was the most far-reaching since the railway boom 40 years earlier.
Sir William Goodman condemned this imposing structure as an extravagance typical of expenditure on the rehabilitation of the state’s railway network during Webb’s regime. The costs, while underpinning South Australia’s economic advances during the 1920s, directly contributed to the government’s near bankruptcy when markets crashed at the onset of the Great Depression. Yet construction of Webb’s centrepiece, a grand new Adelaide Railway Station, continued, partly to provide work for some of the thousands of unemployed men.
The great size of the building was not purely symbolic as it was assumed that the large passenger numbers of the early 1920s would be maintained. The building typifies that era rather than the ensuing Depression and the decline in railways’ use that followed patrons’ move to the motor car. For many years afterwards it was one of the major entry points to Adelaide and for interstate visitors to South Australia.
The station’s historical role is matched by its appearance. It is one of the state’s landmark buildings, and makes a major contribution to the character of North Terrace along with the nearby Parliament House and Festival Centre.
The station was built in 1926-28 to a design by Garlick and Jackman, who won an architectural competition held in 1924.
During the 1980s much of the interior was refurbished. Facades were cleaned and restored, and a large section approached from the original main entry hall on the east was sympathetically converted to the Adelaide Casino. On the west, platforms were shifted and upgraded to make way for the Hyatt (later Intercontinental Hotel) alongside, the Adelaide Convention Centre and office development, which now overshadow the railway station.