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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Magnificent Melbourne

John Woodman

Not much appears on this site about our cousins in Australasia - even though there are plenty of fascinating tram heritage operations as well as operating systems in Adelaide and Melbourne. The latter city is the Australia's equivalent of Glasgow's one-time tram network - but unlike Scotland's loss in 1962, Melbourne's MMTB operator determined resolutely to buck the trend of replacing trams which saw Sydney's great tram system succumb to buses (along with almost all of that country's remaining operators).

A firm hand on the Melbourne transport Board at the time was Sir Robert Risson. Chairman, who ensured that Melbourne's green and cream trams would remain a dominant force in the city's urban transport. This ensured that the famous 'W' series designed for Melbourne would continue into the light rail era with successive upgraded versions - almost like the unique Milan cars from the 1920s still in daily service.

Longevity of Melbourne's trams also happily ensured that many of the types would see examples retained both by the operator (MMTB) as well as several Australian transport museums. Additionally the operator kept faith with heritage operation by allowing tours over the extensive network, including provision of a restaurant tram service using two older cars resplendently painted in distinctive colours. Melbourne's large tram traditional tram fleet also became the source of tourist operations, especially in the United States where Seattle, New Orleans, San Francisco and Memphis all acquired examples. Regrettably the UK's main museum has spurned the opportunity of acquiring Melbourne's classic single deck trams while the sole example in this country resides in the private garden of Elton John's house (complete with trucks and controls).

Another feature of Melbourne's tramway heritage is the quite extensive collection of period cars conserved and restored to immaculate condition devoid of fanciful artwork and topical promotions.

The city's classic trams are considered a national treasure to the extent that two hundred or more of the 'W' series cars are protected from scrap merchants and stored under cover. An export ban was imposed on their further sale after initial transactions were negotiated in the US.

For those with interest in this amazing tramway system, still one of the largest in the world, I commend the book 'Destination CITY' now in its Fifth Edition produced by Transit Australia Publishing. Just about every tram operated by or in Melbourne (several were sent to other Australian systems in previous era) is recorded, including a diverse fleet of works cars. Experimental designs, test cars and the many modified and upgraded designs of the 'W Series' trams are listed, together with disposals and current status.

While Blackpool's tram fleet is not on the same scale as its big cousin 'down under' the need for a current review of the town's famous trams with similar breakdown of successive modifications and disposals is badly needed as an essential compendium for any 'museum' project which may emerge at Rigby Road. 'Destination CITY' is an ideal template for such a definitive record of the town's electric trams - all the way from 1885 to 202?.


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