Trams of Australia

The following are extracts from a report prepared by Godden Mackay, Heritage Consultants, for the National Trust entitled "Tramway Workshops, Depots and Substations" March 1994. Significant amounts are actually drawn from David Keenan's books (see the Books page). Godden Mackay acknowledge this.


1.1 Preamble

Tramways, although now absent from the NSW transport system, were, in their day, the backbone of Sydney's (and also Newcastle's) development.

The horse-drawn tramway, opened in 1861, from Circular Quay to Cleveland Paddock, partly justified the location of the city railway terminals so far from the city centre. Although short-lived, this service was replaced in 1879 by a steam tram service and expansion began, with lines constructed east and west of the city. Steam technology was problematic, and cable-drawn trams were installed in hilly areas such as the North Shore (1886) and Edgecliff (1894). Finally, as electric traction was developed in the 1890s and Ultimo Power House (1899) was built, tramways were constructed rapidly and became the predominant means of daily transport from the residential suburbs to the city workplaces. New lines were built to previously unsettled areas, which could then support a rapid residential development. Much of Sydney's growth, and the characteristic privately-owned "quarter-acre block" (so often identified as the key feature of the Great Australian Dream), are directly traceable to the availability of a regular tramway service to the city centre.

The chronic run-down of capital maintenance and technological investment following the Depression and during World War 2, going hand-in-hand with the advent of the private motor car and diesel buses, saw the wholesale abandonment of tramways in the 1950s. The wisdom of this has been vigorously debated ever since, as the growing problems of traffic congestion and air pollution have at times threatened to paralyse a city which originally developed on the basis of mass public transport provided by trams.

1.2 Background

The National Trust of Australia (New South Wales), concerned at the rapid disappearance of the physical remains of the N.S.W. Tramways system, commissioned Godden Mackay Pty Ltd in 1992 to identify, survey, assess and where appropriate, prepare National Trust Classification Reports for the remaining depots, workshops and substations of the tramway systems of Sydney and Newcastle.

This work was to be under-taken in two phases. The first phase involves the preparation of a historic overview of the development of the Tramways from documentary sources. With this in hand, a field survey would be undertaken of the sites identified by the research as relevant to this study. From this survey, an interim list of sites proposed for the preparation of classification reports would be derived and submitted to the National Trust.

The second phase involves the preparation of the classification reports for those sites agreed between the National Trust and the Consultant. When these are completed, the whole, including the history and analysis prepared for the first phase, would be presented as a bound report to the Trust.


2.1 Introduction

The operation of trams on the streets of Sydney lasted 81 continuous years, with an initial five years of horse tramway between 1861 and 1866. From 1871, trams rapidly developed as the major form of transport around the city, and were integral to the rapid settlement and development of Sydney. Further, the operation of the trams was a factor in and a major influence upon the course of the development of the city, its present centralised form surrounded by largely residential suburbs being a direct result of the commuter facilities and travelling arrangements provided by the trams. Similar features can be observed in the historic development of Newcastle, where trams operated from 1887 until 1950.

Sydney was the only Australian city to have utilised all of the four generally recognised forms of tramway traction, being horse, steam, cable and electric, and it is generally accepted that the Sydney system was one of the most extensive public-owned tramway networks in the world. In addition to the main city network, there were a number of isolated lines in more remote suburbs, generally feeding suburban railway stations or Sydney Harbour ferry services, and two private lines operated for many years prior to one being closed and the other taken over by the Government. At the peak of passenger movement in 1944/45, 404.6 million passenger journeys were made, averaging 1. 1 million per day. Maximum street mileage occurred in January, 1923, with 181 miles (291.3 kilometres) in operation and maximum staff numbers were approximately 8000. Maximum number of passengers vehicles in operation on the Sydney Main System reached 1535 in 1935.

The demise of the trams occurred rapidly between 1949 and 1961, to be largely replaced by government operated diesel motor buses. The trams, under normal development conditions, may have survived on particular routes that suited their characteristics but the intervention of the Second World War had seen enormous patronage of the tram system but no on-going investment and only essential maintenance carried out. The projected capital cost of a massive refurbishment of the system ultimately led to its abandonment instead.

2.2 Establishment

The operation of trams on the roads of Sydney and Newcastle has its origins in a horse-drawn tram line first opened in Pitt Street, Sydney, between Central (Redfern) Railway Terminal and Circular Quay, opened on the 23rd December, 1861. Cumbersome and unpopular, particularly as the rails protruded above the road surface, causing difficulties for other vehicles on the roadway, it was closed in December 1866 and the rails removed.

During the planning for the Australian International Exhibition, held in the huge "Garden Palace" Exhibition Building erected for the purpose in the Botanical Gardens, the question of the transport of the expected crowds from the Railway Terminal to the "Garden Palace" was considered and it was decided to install a steam-powered tramline for this purpose. Mindful of the earlier unpopularity of the horse tram line, this facility was planned to be removed at the close of the exhibition. This line opened in 1879, being worked for its first two weeds by horses till the steam motor cars arrived from the United States.

The line was a popular success and led almost immediately to calls for expansion of the tram service. In 1880, the Tramways Extension Act was passed in the NSW Parliament and construction of additional tramlines along the major transport routes to the city was commenced.

2.3 Development of the Sydney Steam Tram Services

2.3.1 The Sydney Main System
The first tramway line operated from adjacent to the Redfern Railway Terminal to Elizabeth Street at Hunter Street, with crossing loops at either end. A depot was located near the Redfern Terminal in Pitt Street, on the corner of what was then known as Garden Road, opposite Gipps Street West (now Barlow Street). One of the first modifications to this line occurred in 1880 when the Elizabeth Street terminus was extended from Hunter Street to Bridge Street, and a terminal yard was created on land behind the former Treasury Building, on the corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets. This terminal grew into a minor depot, with seven storage sidings and coke and water facilities.

Later that year, September, 1880, the first suburban line opened for traffic between Alison Road, Randwick (at the Racecourse) and Bridge Street. This line was extended into Randwick shopping centre in March 1881, whilst at the same time, a branch was led from Taylor Square along Oxford Street to Ocean Street (known as the Waverley Line). This line was quickly extended to Charing Cross. As these constructions were underway, a large depot and workshops complex was under construction at Randwick, accessed from the Allison Road tracks of the Randwick Line. The Randwick Line was extended to Coogee in 1883.

By the end of 1881, another branch line led to Surry Hills from Oxford Street along Crown Street to Cleveland Street, the Woollahra Branch line ran from Oxford Street along Queen Street to Ocean Street, and an isolated section of track was opened between Newtown Bridge along Enmore, Victoria and Marrickville Roads to Illawarra Road, Marrickville. In 1882, a line opened from the Redfern Railway Terminal via Devonshire, Chalmers, Castlereagh, Redfern and Regent Streets, then Botany Road to a Depot at the Terminus in Banksmeadow Park. The Newtown to Marrickville line was connected to the City lines via King Street and City Road to Parramatta Road, where it branched from a new line to Glebe Point from Bridge Street, all completed by September, 1882. A new line to Forest Lodge also ran along Parramatta Road to Derwent Street, Glebe, then via Catherine Street, Mount Vernon Street, St Johns Road to Ross Street at Pyrmont Bridge Road.

The 1883 year saw a line opened to Annandale along Parramatta Road, extended to Short Street, Leichhardt via Norton Street in 1884 and to Darley Road via Norton Street in 1887. The Waverley Line was extended to Bondi Junction in 1884 and to Bondi Aquarium in 1887. The first cross-country (ie neither terminus was in the city) service opened in 1887, connecting the Coogee Line at Randwick to the Waverley Line at Waverley, with services from Randwick to Bondi Junction. This line was, from 1890 to 1892, the first experimental electrified line in Sydney. It reverted to steam operation when the electrical equipment was transferred to the North Shore.

Development of both new lines and extensions to existing lines continued through the 1890s. The Marrickville Line was extended to Dulwich Hill in 1889; the Waverley Line to St Thomas Street, Waverley in 1890; the Forest Lodge Line became the Balmain Line when extended through Annandale and Rozelle to Darling Street, Balmain, then to Gladstone Park in 1892; the Bondi Line was extended to Bondi Beach in 1894 and the Glebe Line to Glebe Point in 1896. New lines included one from Leichhardt to Abbotsford, opened in 1890 and extended to Abbotsford Point in 1893, from the Railway Terminal to Moore Park via Cleveland Street in 1891, from Newtown Bridge to St Peters Station via King Street in 1891 and from Allison Road via Anzac Parade to Randwick Rifle Range in 1900. This last line was extended to Little Bay in 1901 and to La Perouse in 1902.

During the period 1879 to 1900, the main steam tram system largely operated from the Redfern Terminal in Pitt Street, the Bridge Street Yard, the depot at Randwick Workshops and a small depot at Banksmeadow at the terminus of the Botany Line. The Per Way depot operated from a siding, known as the Botany Road Siding, at the Redfern Terminal and a number of locations around the system contained coking and watering facilities and storage sidings for overnight stabling of cars and trailers.

2.4 Cable Tram Lines

2.4.1 Introduction
Cable Trams were contemporary with steam trams and while, in general, their mode of operation was less satisfactory, particularly regarding their reliability and load capacity of the system, cable trams were suited to lines involving steep grades and for this reason, were constructed in two locations as part of the Sydney network. In both cases, the lines were operated from a single powerhouse along the line, within which a large steam engine drove a continuous cable running in a central track between the tram rails, to which the cars connected to gain motive power.
2.4.2 The North Sydney Cable Tramway
The first cable Tramway was opened between Milson's Point Wharf and North Sydney in 1886. It passed through the centre of the North Sydney township along Miller Street and terminated in a Depot and powerhouse on the corner of Miller and Ridge Streets. The line was important in connecting the township with the main ferry wharf for the North Shore, the land in between being a steep rise from the waterfront to the ridge.

The line was extended to Crows Nest along Falcon Street in 1893, extending the residential catchment area but in the same year, an experimental electric tram line was opened in the opposite direction to Spit Junction. The ultimate success of electric trams led to their taking over the cable tram lines, first the Depot to Crows Nest extension in 1898, followed by the original line to Milsons Point in February, 1900.

The Ridge Street Powerhouse, as well as housing the Cable Haulage engine, contained the engine and generator for the electric tramlines (From 1895, the generator was driven off the Cable Haulage Engine). In 1903, electric cables were laid across the harbour and connected to the substation established in the former Cable Haulage Room and the Ridge Street Power plant ceased to function. The Depot Car Shed continued in use till replaced in 1909.

2.4.3 The King Street Cable Tramway
A second cable tramway was established in 1894, running from the Darling Harbour end of King Street, along St James Road, College, Boomerang and William Streets then Bayswater Road and New South Head Road to Ocean Street, Edgecliff. The depot and Powerhouse were located at Rushcutters Bay, adjacent to Rushcutters Bay Park.

This line was extended to Rose Bay in 1898, the extension being of electrified track, with electric services commenced in October. Power was generated in the Cable Tram Powerhouse and electric cars were hauled to this track over the cable line by the cable cars. In 1900, the electric track was extended east to Dover Road and the cable line to the Depot electrified, enabling self-propelled journeys to the Depot. From 1902, these journeys were incorporated into the normal schedules and passengers were carried. This coincided with the decision to replace the cable trams with electric and the whole line was electrified by March, 1903. It was January, 1904 before regular services were operated and the last cable tram ran on January 5, 1905.

2.5 The Electric Tramway System

2.5.1 Introduction
The earliest use of electric trams in Sydney was the experimental test line established between Waverley and Randwick, opened in 1890. In 1892 this line reverted to full steam operation and the electrical equipment was transferred to the North Shore for the North Sydney to Spit Junction line, opened in 1893. This line was extended to Mosman Wharf in 1897 and then in the opposite direction, including the electrification of the intermediate cable tram track, to Willoughby via Crows Nest in April 1898. The first full electric service on the south side of the Harbour opened as an extension of the Cable Tramway, from Ocean Street, Edgecliff to Rose Bay, in October, 1898. In both of these cases, power for the electric trams was generated at the cable tram powerhouses.

In 1896, approval had also been given for the construction of an electric tram line between Circular Quay and Pyrmont, along George and Harris Streets and in 1897, electrification of all existing steam tram lines was accepted as policy. It was quickly concluded that a major central generating facility would be required and construction commenced on the Ultimo Power House and Ultimo Tram Depot in 1898. The George St/Harris Street tramline and the first stage of the powerhouse opened on the 8th December, 1899.

Electric traction was a major improvement over other power systems, enabling much higher loadings, much lower running and maintenance costs and more frequent services. The trams were larger, more comfortable and convenient for passengers and the better services provided encouraged their popularity. The early twentieth century was characterised by enormous increases in tram patronage and, consequently, services. Numerous new lines were opened, existing lines extended and rolling stock purchased in this period.

Electrification of the existing steam tram lines proceeded rapidly, the priority set by usage levels, convenience to existing stages of electrification and relative costs. Most lines were converted unchanged initially, with subsequent work or alterations. Steam rolling stock was pushed further out in the system until only the isolated lines in the south-east and western areas of the city remained as steam. A number of isolated lines were closed without being electrified, particularly the Parramatta to Castle Hill line, the Arncliff to Bexley line and the Sutherland to Cronulla Line. One, the Kogarah to San Souci Line, was converted to electric trolley buses.

2.7 The Newcastle Tram System

The Newcastle Tram System began as a steam tram line between Newcastle city centre and the outer suburb of Plattsburg (Wallsend), opening in 1887. A small depot was established on Hunter Street, near the Newcastle Terminus. In 1893, this terminus was extended eastwards to Parnell Place and a larger Depot established there, with the original depot retained for light maintenance and repair work.

In April, 1894, two branch lines were opened, one to Glebe and one to Tighes Hill, the latter extended to Mayfield in 1901. These were followed by branch lines to Adamstown in 1900, Merewether Beach in 1903, and Newcastle Racecourse in 1907. In 1910, a long extension was built from Wallsend to West Wallsend, a small depot being established at Wallsend to assist the operation of this line. This depot was extended in 1912 with the opening of a branch line to Speers Point. Also in 1912, a line was opened to Carrington, branching from the Mayfield line. This was followed by another branch to Maryville, opened in 1914 and a branch to Waratah in 1915. The Maryville Line was extended to Port Waratah to service the BHP Steelworks in 1916 being the last major construction for the Newcastle system with the exception of a line to Port Waratah Wharf in 1920 which did not operate beyond a number of trial runs before being abandoned and removed.

With electrification approaching, construction of a new depot was commenced in 1918 at Hamilton, coming into use shortly afterwards. Electrification was underway in the early 1920s, the first electric tram running in October 1923. All lines were fully electric by the end of 1926 except the West Wallsend line beyond the junction with the Speers Point Branch line, which remained steam operated until November 1930, when this and the Speers Point Line were both closed. The latter line saw occasional use until June, 1931 when it was fully closed.

The Hunter Street and Parnell Place Depots were closed in 1927, all operations then being carried out at the Hamilton Depot. Closure of the system and replacement by bus services commenced in 1938 with the closure of the Port Waratah and Carrington Lines. This was followed by the closure of the Mayfield Line in 1948 and the Wallsend Line in 1949. Closure of the whole system occurred in 1950, with the Merewether Beach and Glebe Lines closed in February, the Racecourse Line and the Adamstown Line in April and the final Waratah Line closed on the 10th June, 1950. Hamilton Depot was converted to a bus depot after the removal of the remaining trams.

Thanks to Greg Sutherland for this entire piece.