Our moving heritage

Since the 1950s, there has been a dramatic change in the modes of transport active on the streets of our cities in Australia. Most cities still had extensive tram networks, with all cities except Melbourne mostly or completely dismantling their systems by the late 1960s as an increasing number of cars took over the streets. For a time after the removal of the trams, some cities also had trolleybuses rolling the streets, but these also eventually disappeared.

In Adelaide, one tram route did escape the wrecking heap as it maintains its own right-of-way for the majority of its length except for some street running on Jetty Road near its Glenelg terminus and in Adelaide City. After the mass demolition of tram networks stopped in the late 1960s, the line was poorly maintained and the trams were worn down after many years of service. It was not until the 1990s that the heritage H class trams that entered service in 1929 were upgraded and restored to their original condition.

Since 2005, extensive upgrades and expansions to the remaining tram line have taken place, including:

  • Track renewal of the right-of-way between Adelaide City and Glenelg in 2005
  • Introduction of new Flexity trams in 2006 (Constructed by Bombardier in Germany)
  • Opening of the city extension from Victoria Square to City West in 2007
  • Construction of the South Road overpass in 2009
  • Introduction of the Citadis trams in 2010 (Bought from Metro Ligero in Madrid, Spain)
  • Opening of the extension from City West to the Entertainment Centre at Hindmarsh in 2010

The introduction of the Flexity trams and then the Citadis trams has seen the H class trams gradually removed from service. While it is understandable that the H class have been removed from service due to their lack of wheelchair access, standing capacity and their age, it is a shame that such a significant cultural icon to Adelaide has disappeared altogether and is no longer used even on special heritage runs. Maintaining our cultural heritage such as the old H class trams is such an important issue because it is an important link to our past, who we were, and how we’ve evolved over the years. The H class is a symbol of the former tram network that once was, hidden under the remaining network which now appears as a 21st century product to the untrained eye. To leave the H class to rot would be like throwing valuable family photos down the toilet.

In Melbourne, the iconic W class trams that have pounded the streets of Melbourne since 1936 were increasingly under threat of disappearing from service leading up to the Victorian State Election in late 2010 – a plan described by some as “ripping the soul out of Melbourne”. There are currently 53 of them used on 4 tram routes, including 12 on the free City Circle tram service which runs a loop (both clockwise and anticlockwise) around central Melbourne along La Trobe, Spring and Flinders Streets and then through the Docklands back to La Trobe Street.

The W class trams that operate on the City Circle route are utilised cleverly. As a moving heritage icon of Melbourne, the free service provides a popular way for locals and tourists to explore the sights and sounds of Melbourne, including other heritage sites in central Melbourne, with on board announcements providing information of different places along its route.

If the plan to remove the W class trams had been implemented, only the 12 trams operating on the City Circle would have remained in service, out of the original fleet of over 200. With the plan now withdrawn, these icons not only roll the streets of Melbourne CBD, but also its other older suburbs including Richmond, an area with many heritage buildings and where the old trams blend in well with their urban environment.

With an aging fleet, parts wearing down and a dwindling supply of spare parts available, the excess trams that aren’t in use play an increasingly important role in keeping the active trams moving. Other trams that can no longer be used in service can also be used in clever ways that still maintain their identity and history in modern uses. One W class tram has recently been transported to the gardens outside the Melbourne Arts Centre in Southbank and is being used as a combined ticket box office and cocktail bar called Stop 14 and a Half.

It’s unfortunate that we can’t currently say that our moving heritage in Adelaide is being preserved for future generations to see. I would love to see someone try though.

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