Trams of Australia

Melbourne's cable trams

[Link to picture of Cable Tram street scene] Collins St. in the early 1900's. [2]
Melbourne established cable trams in 1885, and the system grew to 75 km of double track and 1200 cars and trailers, the fourth largest cable system in the world. There is some difficulty in comparing the sizes of American cable systems, and it is possible that the Melbourne system was in fact the largest - it was certainly very similar in extent to the San Francisco system before the 1906 earthquake, and apparently slightly larger than the Chicago system.

Unlike the American systems, the entire operation was operated by one company, with no competing lines. The Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company was granted a monopoly franchise from 1885 to 1916, after which the system was handed over to the government. The system was so comprehensive within its area of operation, that there was no way for a competing electric tram service to get into the city centre. Electric trams, when they started in Melbourne, were for the most part acting as feeders to the cable system.

The system grew to cover 64.12 route miles (103.2 km) but some of the routes shared track, so the total track was was the 75 km already mentioned.

After the end of the M T & O Company's lease, operations were taken over by the newly formed Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board and the system was gradually electrified. By the time the last line was removed from Bourke St. in 1940, the system had lasted 55 years, but now sadly, not a trace remains (apart from some former engine-houses).

I do remember being told that cables from this system were used to make the San Remo (Phillip Island) suspension bridge, now itself replaced.

Preserved Melbourne cable trams
Restored cable trams:

[2] Thanks to Dewi Williams for this picture.

[14] Thanks to Andrew Cox and the Ballarat Vintage Tramway for this photo.