Trams in Melbourne

From Academic Kids

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A C class tram
public transport
Railway stations
Tram routes
Bus routes

The city of Melbourne, the second-largest city in Australia, has one of the world's most extensive networks of tramways. The system's infrastructure is owned by the state government of Victoria, although it is now operated by a private company. The trams contribute to Melbourne's distinctive character and are held in great affection by the people of Melbourne, even though passenger numbers have been falling for many years.

See also: List of Melbourne tram routes



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Cable tram dummy and trailer on the St Kilda Line in Melbourne in 1905.
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An A1 class tram

In 1885 the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company began operating Melbourne's first cable tram line. Soon a Melbourne cable tramway system was running from the city to nearby suburbs, but as the city grew the technical limits of the cable tram system became apparent, and electric trams were developed for lines to more distant suburbs. The last cable trams were replaced by electric trams in 1940. The first electric trams began running in 1906, after an earlier experiment had failed. It was operated by the North Melbourne Electric Tramway and Lighting Company, which operated a line from the city to Essendon. The Victorian Railways also operated an early electric tram from St Kilda to Brighton.

In 1920 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB) took over operation of the whole tramways system from the private companies and suburban municipalities which had been operating the various lines since the 1880s. The MMTB inherited a system with many different types of trams, and solved this problem by introducing the famous W-class tram, which ran for 70 years and a few can still be seen on Melbourne's tram lines.

In the "golden era" of the 1920s and 1930s, loadings were heavy, a tram conductor earned more than a schoolteacher or a policeman, and the slightest scratch or spot of dirt on the rolling stock was dealt with immediately. The MMTB was so profitable that it had to invent ways to spend money, notably by constructing the enormous Wattle Park and the Vimy House private hospital for tramways staff.

After World War II other Australian cities began to replace their trams with buses, and by the 1960s Melbourne was the only Australian city with a major tram network (there is one tramline in Adelaide, and there are also trams in Bendigo). But Melbourne resisted the trend, partly because Melbourne's wide streets and geometric street pattern makes trams more practicable than in many other cities, partly because of resistance from the unions, and partly because the Chairman of the MMTB, Sir Robert Risson, successfully argued that the cost of ripping up the concrete-embedded tram tracks would be prohibitive.

By the mid 1970s, as Sydney became increasingly choked in traffic and air pollution, Melbourne was convinced that its decision to retain its trams was the correct one, even though patronage had been declining since the 1940s in the face of increasing use of cars and the shift to the outer suburbs beyond the tram network's limits. The W-class trams were gradually replaced by the new Z-class, and later by the A-class and the larger, articulated B-class trams.

By the 1990s the tramways network was making huge losses and costing the Victorian state government many millions of dollars. In 1990 the Labor government of Premier John Cain tried to introduce economies in the running of the system, which provoked a long and crippling strike by the powerful tramways union. In 1992 the Liberals came to power under Premier Jeff Kennett and pledged to privatise the tram system. This provoked surprisingly little resistance from the unions.

The government abolished tram conductors and replaced them with ticketing machines, shortly before the system was privatised. This move was highly unpopular with the travelling public and led to the loss of millions of dollars in revenue through fare evasion. After several years of failing to make a profit, M-Tram, who operated one half of the network, handed back their franchise to the government in late 2003. On April 18, 2004, Yarra Trams successfully tendered for the former M-tram routes giving them control over the entire network.

Classes of Melbourne trams in service

Melbourne's electric trams
1920-1960 -  SW5  SW6  W6  W7
1960-2000 -   Z1  Z2  Z3  A1  A2  B1  B2
2000 onwards -   C  D1  D2

The W-class trams

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A W6 class tram

W class trams were introduced to Melbourne in 1923 as a new standard design. They had a dual bogie layout and were characterised by ingeniously simple, rugged design, and fine craftsmanship (particularly the older models). The W Class was the mainstay of Melbourne's tramways system for 60 years.

The original and most numerous W2 variant was supplemented in the late 1930s by 120 W5 (or "Clyde") class trams with wider cabins, and more powerful motors - which were notorious for being difficult to drive smoothly. The W6 followed on: it was to become the most popular W class tram with crews and pasengers alike: fast, smooth and comfortable—at least by W Class standards! Construction came to a halt for some years and the final 40 W Class trams did not emerge from the Preston Workshops until 1956, when the need to provide something more capable of dealing with Olympic Games crowds than Bourke Street's buses prompted the last expansion of the network. The W7 Class with its pneumatic sliding doors (later retrofitted to most W5 and W6 trams too) and softer suspension was popular with passengers but feared by crews, as the braking system - not a strong point in any W Class variant - was never really adequate.

The development of new rolling stock to replace the W Class finally began in 1975 with a complex and expensive Swedish design that was ill-suited to Melbourne's hot summers and heavy loadings. Although the Z Class was improved over time with the revised Z2 and Z3 variants, it was not a success, and it was not until the 1990s that the W Class was finally retired from regular commuter duty. It has since been revived on some lines due to its iconic popularity. They run regularly on the short and slow North Richmond to St Kilda Beach route but are unsuitable for longer routes due to speed limitations imposed as a result of poor braking, despite recent modifications.

The free City Circle route also operates using them to the delight of many tourists and a few have been converted into upmarket mobile restaurants which cruise the suburbs in the evening.

Approximately 200 later model W class trams remain stored at various locations around Melbourne as part of a heritage fleet. The future use of these trams is unknown.

The Z-class trams

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Z1.5 being taken to TMSV Bylands

The Z-class trams, built by Comeng, were introduced from the mid-late 1970s, starting with the Z1 class, built from 1975 to 1979. 100 trams were built, most of which are now being withdrawn.

In 1978 and 1979, fifteen Z2 class trams—having little difference from the Z1 classes—were built. As with the Z1 class, Z2 class trams are now being withdrawn from service.

From 1979 to 1984, Z3 class trams were introduced, being a significant improvement on the Z1 and Z2 class trams. 115 were built, 114 of which are in service (Z3.149 was destroyed in a fire). Some trams still retain the original green & gold livery of The Met, the rest having been reliveried in either Yarra Trams or all-over advertising livery.

The B1/B2-class trams/light rail vehicles

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A B2-class tram in Melbourne, wearing it's green 'The Met' livery.

The B-class trams (also known as light rail vehicles) were first introduced to Melbourne in 1984 with the prototype B1 class trams, which were a significant improvement over the Z1-classes. Only 2 were built, 1 of which remains in service today.

B2 class trams were built from 1988-1994, by Comeng, and later ABB Transportation. They were an improvement over the B1-classes. 130 were built, all of which remain in service today. B2-classes are often spotted in all-over advertising livery. The B2 class was notable for the long overdue introduction of air-conditioning.

Most B2-classes, and the only remaining B1 in service have been repainted in Yarra Trams livery.

The Citadis and the Combino

The Citadis and Combino trams were introduced following privatisation of Melbourne's tram system. The private operators were obliged under their franchises to replace older Z class trams, although this has not fully taken place. Yarra Trams introduced the Citadis or C class, manufactured in France by Alstom. It is a three section articulated vehicle. Thirty-six are in service. The now defunct M-Tram purchased the German made Siemens Combino. The Combino is a three (D1 class) or five (D2 class) section articulated vehicle. Ownership of the D class trams has now passed to Yarra Trams. Currently 38 D1 and 21 D2 section vehicles are in service.


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