Trams in Australia are now used extensively as public transport only in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent, Adelaide, though Sydney 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 Adelaide and Brisbane 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, Sydney adopted steam trams, which were operated by the state government. By comparison, Melbourne 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 Wales, such as Maitland, Broken Hill and Newcastle had steam tram systems operated by the New South Wales Government. Rockhampton, Queensland, 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 Bendigo and Ballarat in Victoria and Kalgoorlie and Leonora in Western Australia 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 Hobart and Brisbane 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.
Perth had an electric tram system in operation between 1898 and 1958.
Adelaide 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.
Victoria 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.
Bendigo 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.
Ballarat 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 Wendouree 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.
Geelong maintained an electric tram service from 1912 until 1956.
The large network included 4 main routes:
A replica tourist route in Portland 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.
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 Woolloongabba, 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.
Rockhampton 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.
Sydney, the largest city in Australia, once had the largest tram system in Australia, the second largest in the British Empire, after London, 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 CBD and inner suburbs but none has come to fruition.
A steam tram line connected East and West Maitland between 1909 and 1926.
Trams in Adelaide are represented by a single tram line connecting the central business district of Adelaide to the seaside suburb of Glenelg, 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.
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.
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 Perth, Fremantle, Kalgoorlie and Leonora. The early northern port of Cossack was linked by tram with the town of Roebourne 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 Perth and West Perth along Hay Street. The network was electrified, and expanded down as far as Fremantle and across the Swan River causeway to Victoria Park. 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 Park 22 km north of Perth, there is an operating tram system run by the Perth Electric Tramway Society, with 4 km of track.
Hobart had a municipal tram system from 1893 to 1960 with a network of 8 routes throughout the city, the tram network was scaled down and by 1960 was virtually defunct and replaced by a short lived trolley car system until 1968. Hobart has investigated restoring the tram network, as it has a proud heritage of them, being one of the first Australian cities to implement a tram system but no such development has occurred. However recent investigation and transport studies have led to plans to instigate a Light Rail system along old existing rail lines.
Launceston had a municipal tram system from 1911 to 1952 with 29 trams.
Tram museums operate in many cities following the closure of their networks. Major museums include the Brisbane Tramway Museum , the Sydney Tramway Museum, Whiteman Park, 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.
The following are proposals for completely new light rail systems.
The Gold Coast Rapid Transit project is a proposed light rail system in Gold Coast, Australia. Stage 1 of the project will link Griffith University (Southport campus) with Broadbeach, passing through the key activity centres of Southport and Surfers Paradise. The Queensland Government and the Gold Coast City Council are working together to build a light rail system between Helensvale and Coolangatta.
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 CBDs 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.
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 Station, 7.2 km to the inner western suburb of Lilyfield. 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 Adelaide 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.