Happy Centennial of a Big Global Streetcar Event

Tram procession on Riversdale Road, Camberwell, Melbourne, November 10, 1991. Courtesy Australian Rail Maps Group on Facebook.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB), whose history is wonderfully summarized in the quoted sections below, which were originally posted on Facebook by the group Australian Rail Maps, which also provided the historic photo from 1991 above.

The M&MTB built both of Muni’s W-class trams: W2 496 in 1929, and SW6 916 in 1946. (Muni also has W2 586, built in 1930, complete and in storage.) W-class trams are generally considered among the best ever built anywhere: simple, reliable, and durable. There were eight evolutionary classes of these vehicles, built between 1923 and 1956. In the photo above, W Class 380 and W1 Class 431 bring up the rear of this procession of older trams. Originally M&MTB painted its trams in a chocolate brown, but switched to the iconic green livery in the late 1920s. W-class trams still hold down service on the 35-City Circle line, as famous to Melbourne as cable cars are to San Francisco. These trams are in the process of being upgraded with some modern features while retaining their historic fabric into the W8 class, for decades more service. We have shared some of the details of these upgrades with Muni, for possible incorporation into its Melbourne trams.

You can find a complete all-time roster of Melbourne trams here.

Melbourne today continues to operate the largest electric streetcar network in the world, thanks to the enduring commitment started by M&MTB. Happy Centennial to our friends Down Under. And thanks to Adolfo Echeverry for the great photo immediately below of Muni’s 496 (left) and 916 at the Ferry Building.

Founded on November 1 1919, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board was a State Government instrumentality charged with integrating and operating Melbourne’s then fragmented tramways. The city and suburbs possessed an impressive but disjoint collection of tramways that had evolved over decades. The MMTB inherited the cable tram network built between 1885 and 1919 by the Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Company (MTOC), and the Northcote Municipality Cable Tramway line. Comprising numerous lines centred on downtown Melbourne, cable trams ran in all directions into the inner suburbs and was world’s largest ever cable tramway network.
The MMTB also inherited a number of municipal-owned electric tramway networks that served surrounding municipalities. Many lines connected end-on with cable trams into the centre of Melbourne. These networks included those of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Trust (PMTT), the Hawthorn Tramways Trust (HTT), the Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg Tramways Trust (MBCTT), the Fitzroy, Northcote and Preston Tramways Trust (FNPTT), and the then under construction Footscray Tramways Trust (FTT). It also took over the operations of the privately owned North Melbourne Electric Tramway & Lighting Company and Melbourne’s last remaining horse tram route from Royal Parade to Melbourne Zoo in Royal Park.
The MMTB set about unifying and standardising the network. Over the decades it replaced cable trams with electric trams. The last cable tram route, along Bourke Street, closed in 1940. It embarked on a massive electric tramcar modernisation and building program that gave the world the famous W class tram and enabled the older pre-MMTB trams to be withdrawn.
Ultimately, it’s because of the MMTB that Melbourne was able to stand strong against the worldwide destruction of tram networks throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and has not only retained but extended its network so that it is now the world’s largest electric tram network. Trams are now the single most iconic and defining feature of the city.
Ultimately the MMTB was dissolved on July 1 1983 when it was replaced by the Metropolitan Transit Authority that merged tram, bus and suburban train services in Melbourne. Subsequent changes have led to operation of Melbourne’s trams nowadays being franchised to Keolis Downer and run under the banner of Yarra Trams.

–From Australian Rail Maps Group on Facebook, November 1, 2019