Victor P Taffa
When the second largest tramway network in the world closed on 25 February 1961, Sydney lost a beat in its heart and the dereliction of tramway heritage has shown how soulless we have become.
Newcastle lost its tramway system on 11 June 1950 and in 2009 the railway from Newcastle to Broadmeadow is under the threat of closure.
The first horse drawn tram ran on 23 December 1861 and electric operations commenced during November 1890 in Waverley, Sydney.
Trams extended throughout Sydney and spread to Newcastle, Maitland and Broken Hill. At its height the Sydney tramway network had a track distance of 679 km with up to 1570 tramcars moving 429 million passengers per year. There was a tram ferry that conveyed trams across Middle Harbour until October 1939.
Sporting events featured largely in Sydney tramway operations with the Randwick Racecourse siding utilising up to 600 tram cars. Initially there were horse drawn trams however the various operations throughout New South Wales included steam, cable and electric. There were 3 horse drawn tram depots, 18 steam tram depots, 3 cable tram depots and 18 electric tram depots for the various systems.
The largest tram depot was at South Dowling Street which housed 345 tramcars. As at 2009 the Newtown and Rozelle tram depots are covered in graffiti and in a state of disrepair. Rozelle tram depot contains many old tramcars and there is a dispute as to who has responsibility for its upkeep.
The Rozelle depot is at the very heart of the shabby disregard that we show towards our heritage. Tempe tram depot has been used by the bus and truck museum however the State Transit Authority has displaced the museum on the grounds of occupational and safety issues. Various tram lines ran in Sydney and there were 7 isolated lines. 2 tram lines were replaced by railways and all lines operated to standard gauge of 1435mm.
The longest tram routes were Newcastle-Wallsend at 24.9km and Fort Macquarie-Ryde at 17.3km. Fort Macquarie contained a tram depot and is now the site of the Sydney Opera House. Tramcars were able to move between the railways and the tramways with a single track line operating from West Ryde along Victoria Road to the Ryde tram line. This line operated until 1934.
During the 1850’s debate raged as to whether or not horse drawn trams should be the primary means of transportation and the Chief Engineer John Whitton convinced New South Wales Governor Denison that heavy railways on standard gauge tracks were preferable for their ability to haul freight. With the debate swirling around metro rail and B-Double haulage of freight on the roads it shows how the arguments have not progressed very far since 1855.