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The Newport Substation is a large red brick and cement render neo-Classical building designed by the Way and Works Branch of the Victorian Railways in conjunction with the engineering firm Werz and MacLellan.
The facades are divided into three sections: a cement rendered basement with square perforated metal ventilation openings; a face brick lower floor with rectangular window openings having cement rendered voussoirs; and a 'piano noble' with tall rounded arched window openings having rendered drip moulds and keystones. A rendered moulding separates the lower floor from the main level, and another encircles the building at the arch opening line. A deep rendered cornice and a brick parapet top the building.
The two halves of the building are distinguished by the machine hall projecting forward at each end as separate pavilion, topped by a semi-circular pediment. The switch cell section has brick panels dividing the upper window openings, and has an insert balcony along the side of the building at the mid-level; wrought iron balustrading spans between the brick piers.
The whole side of one side of the building is taken up by the machine hall, which is a full height space broken up at the lower level by dividing walls, forming separate bays, which housed the rotary converters. At one end is a loading bay originally served by a siding from the adjacent track, and a bay for signaling equipment is adjacent to the bay in larger substations. At the basement level on this side of the building are separate walls designed to support the heavy equipment; these form a series of catacomb-like rooms.
On the other side of the building is the switchgear housed on three levels in separate cells with interlocked doors; each cell is continuous through all levels. Various types of switching apparatus are located on the first two levels, the second level opening to the balcony. At the top level is the bus bar chamber, which provides power to all the cells. Stairwells at each end of this section provide access to all levels; steel ladders reach the bus bar chamber.
The main operating floor is the middle level, which has a gallery and balcony overlooking the rotary bays. An office and bathroom are provided at one end of the this level, below which are battery rooms and other ancillary spaces including the building entry. Below the operating gallery is a row of DC switch cells.
There are five surviving examples of this type, located at Newmarket, Newport, Glenroy, North Fitzroy and Albion. The largest is Newmarket while the smallest is Glenroy. At Newport and North Fitzroy, the basic plan is varied by the switchgear section being one window bay shorter than the machine hall at one end of the building.
The use of the neo-Classical style for these substations are comparable with other buildings designed by the Way and Works Branch during the same period. These include Flinders Street Station, additions to the Spencer Street Administrative Offices, and the Jolimont Car Repair Sheds and several other station buildings.