Exploring Melbourne: W-class trams

W-class tram 896, La Trobe Street, Melbourne, Australia

W-class tram 896, La Trobe Street, Melbourne, Australia

The Melbourne attachment to tradition embraces its trams, though the system itself survived partly because it was electrified much later than most.

Melbourne people regard the traditional W-class single-decker as part of the city’s furniture, like Londoners’ attachment to red double-deck buses.

The design dates as far back as 1923, and has been modified repeatedly over the years.  The latest were built in 1956, in time for the Melbourne Olympics.

Street-running trams are ideal for Melbourne’s transport needs, and new, improved vehicles have been introduced up to the present day.

But every time the authorities try to pension off the W-class there is uproar.

When the drivers (“motormen” in Melbourne) complained about the brakes, a media campaign pushed for the brakes to be improved, rather than retire the trams.

Around two hundred cars are in storage, and a much smaller number work the City Circle and a couple of routes where their restricted speed doesn’t conflict with more modern trams, and three are converted for the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant operation.

They are heritage listed, like the San Francisco cable-cars.  Some have been retired to transport museums, and there are several in the USA, but there is now an absolute embargo on exporting them.

Elton John has one in his back garden near Windsor, and Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark were given one as a wedding present.  (Princess Mary was born and grew up in Tasmania, and worked for a time in Melbourne.)

There’s nothing quite like the Melbourne tram-system, and the operation on the same tracks of the most modern LRTs alongside a ninety-year-old design that won’t retire results from an endearing combination of practicality and public affection.

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK_nHt_zh84 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n__ikjBfk6k&feature=related.


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