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Trams in Australia are now used extensively as public transport only in Melbournemarker, and to a lesser extent, Adelaidemarker, though Sydneymarker operates a modern light rail system. Several other major cities had tram networks however these networks were largely dismantled during the 1950s and some as late as the 1970s. However some of these cities have retained tram museums or replica tourist routes.


In the 19th century numerous horse drawn systems were established, with Adelaidemarker and Brisbanemarker establishing reasonably large systems (for their day) and retaining their horse drawn trams when other systems had adopted steam or cable traction. Victor Harbor and Gawler in South Australia are examples of small, single-line horse-drawn systems which survived until 1953 and 1931 respectively; the Victor Harbor line reopened in 1985.

Following a short lived experiment with a privately run horse tram line in Pitt Street in the 1860s, Sydneymarker adopted steam trams, which were operated by the state government. By comparison, Melbournemarker adopted cable trams, which were owned and operated by the local government. The Melbourne cable tramway system became the largest in the world in the late 19th century, with some cable lines retained until 1940. Sydney operated only two cable tram lines (in North Sydney and along South Head Road) and eschewed the high capital outlay required for cable traction, preferring instead to retain their steam trams, until most of the system was converted to electric operation between 1898 and 1910.

Smaller provincial towns in New South Walesmarker, such as Maitlandmarker, Broken Hillmarker and Newcastlemarker had steam tram systems operated by the New South Wales Government. Rockhamptonmarker, Queenslandmarker, also had a steam tram system, which was operated by the City of Rockhampton. With the exception of Newcastle, these systems had closed by the 1930s.

Gold mining towns, with their rapid growth and wealth soon adopted trams, with Bendigomarker and Ballaratmarker in Victoriamarker and Kalgoorliemarker and Leonoramarker in Western Australiamarker all adopting electric tram systems. Bendigo held trials of a battery-operated tram, but this was unsuccessful. The Victorian systems survived until 1972 following their takeover by the state government, whereas the West Australian examples ceased operations in the 1930s as a result of the economic decline of those towns at the time.

Electrification was quickly adopted in Australian systems, with Hobartmarker and Brisbanemarker the first systems to be electrified in 1893 and 1897 respectively. Hobart thus was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to operate a successful electric tramway system. It was also the only Australian city to use the European-style 'bow collector', instead of Frank Sprague's trolley pole system. Hobart was also the first city outside Europe to employ electric double-decker trams. The Hobart system retained a distinctly "English" appearance throughout its existence.

Perthmarker had an electric tram system in operation between 1898 and 1958.

Adelaidemarker was the last major city to convert its trams to electric operation, in 1908, with the system closing (except for the Glenelg line) in 1958.

A distinctive feature of many Australasian trams was the drop-centre, a lowered central section between bogies (wheel-sets), to make passenger access easier by reducing the number of steps required to get inside of the vehicle. The trams made by Boon & Co in 1906-07 for the Christchurch system may have been the first with this feature; they were referred to as drop-centres or Boon cars. Trams for Christchurch and Wellington built in the 1920s with an enclosed section at each end and an open-sided middle section were also known as Boon cars, but did not have the drop-centre. Similar trams were known in America as the Hedley-Doyle stepless car, named for two employees of the New York Railways Company, eg the "Big Lizzie" of Brisbane supplied by J. G. Brill in 1913.


ImageSize = width:700 height:780PlotArea = width:550 height:700 left:140 bottom:20AlignBars = late

 bar:Vi text:Victor Harbour
 bar:Sy text:Sydney
 bar:Ro text:Rockhampton
 bar:Po text:Portland
 bar:Pe text:Perth
 bar:Ne text:Newcastle
 bar:Me text:Melbourne
 bar:Ma text:Maitland
 bar:Le text:Leonora
 bar:La text:Launceston
 bar:Ka text:Kalgoorlie
 bar:Ho text:Hobart
 bar:Go text:Gold Coast
 bar:Ge text:Geelong
 bar:Fr text:Fremantle
 bar:Ca text:Cairns-Mulgrave
 bar:Bh text:Broken Hill-Silverton
 bar:Br text:Brisbane
 bar:Be text:Ballarat
 bar:Ba text:Bendigo
 bar:Ad text:Adelaide

Colors =
 id:grey  value:gray(0.4)
 id:lgrey  value:gray(0.8)

DateFormat = yyyyPeriod = from:1860 till:2020TimeAxis = orientation:horizontalScaleMajor = unit:year increment:10 start:1860 gridcolor:lgreyScaleMinor = unit:year increment:1 start:1860

 color:green width:3
   from:1878 till:1958
   at:1906 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electrification
   at:1958 mark:(line,red) shift:(-30,-15) color:blue width:1 text:Network closure
   from:1958 till:2007 shift:(-15,-15) color:blue width:1 text:Glenelg
   at:2007 mark:(line,red) shift:(-30,-15) color:blue width:1 text:Extension
   from:2007 till:end color:blue width:2
   from:1887 till:1971
   at:1905 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electrification
   at:1971 mark:(line,red) shift:(-40,-15) color:blue width:1 text:Network closure
   from:1971 till:end shift:(0,-15) color:blue width:1 text:Talking (tourist)
   from:1892 till:1972
   at:1903 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electrification
   at:1972 mark:(line,red) shift:(-40,-15) color:blue width:1 text:Network closure
   from:1972 till:end shift:(-15,-15) color:blue width:1 text:Wendouree (tourist)
   from:1885 till:1969
   at:1897 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electrification
   from:1886 till:1970 shift:(0,-15) color:red width:1 text:tramway
   from:1897 till:1911 shift:(0,-15) color:red width:1 text:tramway
   from:1905 till:1952
   from:1912 till:1956
   at:1912 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electric
   from: 2015 till:end shift:(-100,-15) color:orange width:2 text:Light Rail (proposed)
   from:1893 till:1960
   at:1893 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electric
   from:1902 till:1952
   at:1902 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electric
   from:1901 till:1921
   at:1901 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Hydro-Electric
   from:1901 till:1921
   at:1901 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electric
   from:1909 till:1926 color:blue width:1
   at:1909 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Steam
   from:1885 till:end shift:(-30,-15) text:Largest network in world
   at:1889 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:First Electric
   at:1906 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electrification of network
   at:1890 shift:(-60,-25) text:Largest cable network in world
   from:1887 till:1950
   at:1887 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Steam
   at:1923 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:First Electric
   at:1926 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-25) text:Electrification of Network
   from:1899 till:1958
   at:1899 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electric
   from:1996 till:end color:blue width:1
   at:1996 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Cable (replica tourist)
   from:1909 till:1939
   at:1909 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Steam
   from:1861 till:1866 shift:(-20,-15) text:Horse drawn
   from:1879 till:1961
   at:1879 mark:(line,red) shift:(-10,-15) text:Steam
   at:1898 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Electrification of Network
   at:1930 mark:(line,red) shift:(-45,-15) text:Largest network in world
   at:1961 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Network closure
   at:1997 mark:(line,red)
   from:1997 till:end  color:orange width:1  shift:(-45,-15) text:Metro Light rail
   from:1896 till:1956 shift:(0,-15) color:red width:1
   at:1896 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Horse Drawn
   from:1986 till:end color:blue width:1
   at:1986 mark:(line,red) shift:(-20,-15) text:Horse Drawn (replica tourist)

LineData =
 layer:front                    # all lines in front of bars unless stated otherwise

  • Green means extensive network (more than one line)
  • Blue means single line or tourist railway
  • Orange means modern light rail line or network
  • Red means mixed use (freight/passenger)
  • Width indicates extensiveness of network (relative to size of town/city)


Victoriamarker is home to the most extensive tram networks in Australia & the world and currently the only state in Australia to be running electric trams in multiple cities.


Melbourne has the largest tram system in the world and its trams have become part of the city's culture and identity due to their long history.In Melbourne, in addition to newer types of trams in use such as the Citadis, the Combino and the middle-aged A, B and Z class trams, older W-class trams (of the dropcentre design referred to above) remain in service as a major form of public transport as well as a popular tourist attraction. W-class trams are used on the free City Circle tram route in addition to several other routes and also operate as the world's first restaurant tram. A total of 53 W-class trams remain in regular service, with the oldest in-service tram dating from 1939.


The "talking tram" in Bendigo

Bendigomarker in regional Victoria has retained sections of its once extensive network.The famous heritage "talking tram" and "cafe tram" run as tourist attractions in conjunction with a tramway museum.A recent proposal by the City of Greater Bendigo to extend the route around Lake Weeroona was rejected.


A busy tram in Sturt Street, Ballarat in 1917
Ballaratmarker in regional Victoria once had an extensive tram network.The city retained a very small section of track running alongside the street at the western end of Lake Wendoureemarker which is operated as a tourist route and tram museum.There have been several proposals put to the City of Ballarat to return trams to the inner suburbs and extend the line to Ballarat railway station however these plans have been put on hold indefinitely.


Opening of the Geelong Tramway in 1912
Geelongmarker maintained an electric tram service from 1912 until 1956.

The large network included 4 main routes:


Tram in Portland, powered by a small combustion engine, enroute from Wade Street to the Henty Park depot.
A replica tourist route in Portlandmarker was created using old vintage Melbourne cable trams. The single line route runs along the beach and harbourfront to the historic lighthouse on the hill. The popular tourist route ran into financial trouble in 2005.



Brisbane trams in the 1930s

The Brisbane Tram System was operational from 1885 to 1969.

Brisbane's tram system ran on standard gauge track. The electric system was originally energised to 500 volts, this was subsequently increased to 600 volts.

Most trams operated with a two person crew - a driver (or motorman) and a conductor, who moved about the tram collecting fares and issuing tickets. The exceptions to this arrangement were on the Gardens line (Lower Edward Street) where the short duration of the trip meant it was more effective for passengers to simply drop their fare into a fare box as the entered the tram; and the "one man cars" which operated in the early 1930s (see below).

The system route kilometrage reached its maximum extent of 109 kilometres in 1952. The total track kilometrage was 199 kilometres, owing to many routes ending in single, rather than double, track. Single track segments of the track were protected by signalling which operated off the trolley wire. By 1959 more than 140 kilometres of track were laid in concrete, a method of track construction pioneered in Brisbane.

The last track opened was in O'Keefe Street Woolloongabbamarker, in May 1961. However, this track was not used in normal passenger service and was merely used to reduce dead running from Logan Road back to Ipswich Road Depot.

The peak year for patronage was in 1944-45 when almost 160 million passengers were carried.


Steam trams in Rockhampton, 1923; note the small boiler at the front of the leading tram
Rockhamptonmarker operated steam trams from 1909 to 1939. There is a Steam Tram Museum at Archer Park Station, with a toastrack style French Purrey steam tram operating in weekends.

New South Wales


A Sydney Metro Light Rail train

Sydneymarker, the largest city in Australia, once had the largest tram system in Australia, the second largest in the British Empire, after Londonmarker, and one of the largest in the world. It was also extremely intensively worked, with about 1,600 cars in service at any one time at its peak during the 1930s (cf. about 500 trams in Melbourne today). Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, there was an average of more than one tram journey per day made by every man and woman, infant and child in the city. Patronage peaked in 1945 at the extraordinary level of 405 million passenger journeys. The system was in place from 1861, until its winding down in the 1950s and eventual closure in 1961. It had a maximum street mileage of 181 miles (291 km) in 1923.

In 1997, more than 30 years after trams disappeared from Sydney streets, the Metro Light Rail, a privately owned single line system opened. There have been various proposals to extend this system into the CBDmarker and inner suburbs but none has come to fruition.


A steam tram system operated in Newcastle, New South Walesmarker from 1887, with a branch to West Wallsendmarker. It was electrified in 1923-26. The last line closed in 1950.


Opening of the Maitland Tramway in 1909
A steam tram line connected East and West Maitland between 1909 and 1926.

South Australia


Trams in Adelaidemarker are represented by a single tram line connecting the central business district of Adelaidemarker to the seaside suburb of Glenelgmarker, and two classes of electric trams built in 1929 and 2006. Until 1958 this line was part of a large network spanning most of suburban Adelaide, with origins dating back to 1878. Adelaide operated with a horse tram network from 1878 to 1909, an electric tram network till 1958 and has primarily relied on buses for public transport since. Electric trams and trolleybuses were the main public transport from the opening of the electric tram network to its closing and are enjoying a resurgence with the expansion of the remaining line and the first new tram purchases for over 50 years.

St Kilda

The St Kilda tram museum operates an extensive fleet of historic South Australian and interstate tram cars and trolley buses. Work began in 1958 with the arrival of donated vehicles, the first of which was an old trolley bus from the Municipal Tramways Trust, and the museum was opened in 1967 as a static display. The museum houses over 30 electric trams, horse trams and electric trolley buses many of which are restored and operational. Visitors can ride the electric trams along 2 km of purpose built track that runs between the museum and an adventure playground.

Victor Harbor

The Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tram line from Victor Harbormarker to Granite Island in South Australia which had closed in 1931 re-opened in 1985 using replicas of the original cars as a tourist attraction.

Western Australia

Tram lines and companies operated in several towns of Western Australia. These were sometimes public services, while others were primarily for industries like mining or timber. Trams operated in the cities and towns of Perthmarker, Fremantlemarker, Kalgoorliemarker and Leonoramarker. The early northern port of Cossackmarker was linked by tram with the town of Roebournemarker during the gold boom of the 1890s. The biggest of these networks was centred upon the growing state capital, Perth.


Trams ran in Perth from 1899. The first trams ran between East Perthmarker and West Perthmarker along Hay Street. The network was electrified, and expanded down as far as Fremantlemarker and across the Swan Rivermarker causeway to Victoria Parkmarker. The government took over the running of trams in 1914.

The last tram was built in 1934; No 130. The trams ceased running on 20 July 1958.

At Whiteman Parkmarker 22 km north of Perth, there is an operating tram system run by the Perth Electric Tramway Society, with 4 km of track.


Launceston's busy streets in the 1920s when the city's trams were a major form of transportation
Hobartmarker had a municipal tram system from 1893 to 1960, and Launcestonmarker had a municipal tram system from 1911 to 1952 with 29 trams.

At Launceston, Tasmaniamarker the Launceston Tramway Museum Society runs a tramway museum in the Inveresk Precinct. The long term plan is to have a line from the city centre to the museum

Tramway Museums

Tramway at Whiteman Park Village, Perth

Tram museum operate in many cities following the closure of their networks. Major museums include the Brisbane Tramway Museum , the Sydney Tramway Museummarker, Whiteman Parkmarker, Perth, and the Bylands Heritage Centre, Victoria run by the TMSV. There are also museums at St Kilda and Victor Harbor, South Australia and Lauceston, Tasmania.


There are currently a number of proposals for both extensions to existing systems and new light rail systems in cities that either had not previously had trams or had past tram systems that no longer operate.

Completely New Systems

The following are proposals for completely new light rail systems.

Gold Coast

Canberra, Queanbeyan and Palerang Council

Lightrail is on one of the top lists of infrastructure planed by 2013.


The following are proposed projects in cities that once abandoned trams. There is often a significant nostalgia and sentimental motivation for these proposals which sometimes counts against them in a practical sense.


In recent times Brisbane has had several proposals for light rail in the CBD but each time they have been postponed. Most of the effort in Brisbane is currently on busways which have been designed to accommodate future light rail routes.


There is currently a feasibility study into the possible introduction of a light rail service in Hobart's Northern Suburbs.

Extension of Existing Systems

The following are proposals for extension to existing tram networks.


There are several ongoing proposals to extend Melbourne's network, however the most recent extension to Melbourne Docklands completed in 2005 yielded less than 1 kilometre of new track.


The Metro Light Rail currently comprises one line from the Central Railway Stationmarker, 7.2 km to the inner western suburb of Lilyfieldmarker. The Sydney City Council favours extension of the line to Circular Quay through the Central Business District, but the proposal does not yet have state government approval. See also Metro Monorail.


The Adelaide tram system currently comprises a single line from the CBD to Glenelg. However there are plans to extend the system from the CBD to Port Adelaidemarker as part of an urban renewal of the inner western suburbs.


There have been several proposals put to the City of Ballarat to return trams to the inner suburbs and extend the line to Ballarat railway station however these plans have been put on hold indefinitely.


A recent proposal by the City of Greater Bendigo to extend the route around Lake Weeroona was rejected.

See also


  1. Australian Electric Transport Museum (Undated), Visit the Tramway Museum, St Kilda S.A., promotional brochure

External links

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