A short history of Australia’s tram system
- June 19, 2010
Trams in Australia are now used public transport only in Melbourne, and to a much lesser extent, Adelaide and Bendigo. Most Australian cities however used to have extensive tram networks however these networks were largely dismantled during the 1950s and 1960’s. Many of these trams are now kept in local museums and for many can bring back some great memories of a bygone era.
In 1881 Australia’s first tram was introduced, this new system involved running iron tracks across major way routes in the cities and was a vast improvement over dragging wheels through the muddy tracks that were roads at the time. This first tram was drawn by horse along Sydney Pitt Street, running from the Railway station to Circular Quay. However die to design faults with the tram line that led to the tracks having to extend above the level of the ground and subsequently cause damage to other vehicles it was closed just 5 years later in 1886.
Despite its demise in Sydney, horse trams did become established in some Australian cities. Adelaide quickly established an extensive horse tram system, shying away from new fangled technologies like cable and steam later introduced until eventually with the invent of the electric tram when it no longer could be avoided.
Australia was not to see Trams used as a primary transport method until 1879 when a steam tramway was developed. This modern version proved to be a much bigger success and soon became popular. One of these original ‘Baldwin’ trams is still on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Due to the layout of Sydney and its hilly terrain the tram system was effectively a number of independent tram services, the main ones were Sydney CBD, North Shore and Manly.
Throughout the 1890’s and early 1900’s Sydney had one of the largest steam tram networks in the world. Melbourne on the other hand was much happier with cable trams and these dominated the streets of Melbourne at the end of the 19th Century. However as technology improved electrification was introduced in 1898, this new clean technology was a vastly more efficient system that the old steam and cable trams and eventually replaced the old methods completely by 1910. Initially battery powered trams were used but these proved to be a dismal and far less reliable version of the older technologies however Electric trams quickly became the preferred system as overhead electric lines were used.
The axe began to fall upon on most Australian tram networks in the 1950s and ’60sas they were replaced by diesel buses. At the time car drivers rejoiced, believing that commuting would be a lot easier with the trams out of the way. However as traffic levels increased and the roads proved unable to deal with the ever increasing number of cars, larger cities began to realise their mistake. Melbourne alone in resisting the trend, was voted the ‘world’s most liveable city’ a few years ago. A major factor in this accolade is almost certainly famous tram system it still runs.
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