This was the banner headline, which appeared on a special edition of the local newspaper to celebrate the opening of the electric tramways in Essendon on the 11th of October 1906. it was a great day for the residents of Essendon who had been struggling to secure an effective street transport system for many years.
Essendon had been serviced by a private railway as early as 1860 although the original venture was not successful and the line closed from 1864 until it was reopened by the Victorian Railways in 1871.
The original street transport system in Essendon was a horse bus, which operated from Moonee Ponds Junction to Flemington Bridge. Passengers wishing to travel further to Melbourne were then required to transfer to a hanson cab or in later years to the cable tram.
When the cable tram system was being installed there was agitation for the tracks to be extended from the proposed terminus at Flemington Bridge to Moonee Ponds, but the campaign was unsuccessful resulting in the permanent terminus being at Flemington Bridge.
Two early proposals in 1888 and 1889 for an electric tramway in the Essendon district were abandoned when the land boom collapsed, but in 1902 a Mr A E Morgan’s of Western Australia who was interested in investing in electric tramways sent his representative a Mr Rodgers to Melbourne to investigate suitable routes.
Mr Rodgers met with Essendon councillors and inspected the district and as a result of this Mr Morgan’s offered to build two lines commencing from Flemington Bridge – to Moonee Ponds and to the Saltwater River (now Maribyrnong River).
Although there was strong opposition to the proposals from the Victorian Railways who believed that this new service would detract patronage from they’re undertaking. As a result the Government of the day refused to approve Mr Morgan’s proposals. However there was a change of Government and the new Cabinet approved the scheme.
The Metropolitan Gas Company then claimed that their mains would be affected by stray current electrolysis. It was finally agreed that the proposal should be subject to a referendum of ratepayers and they voted overwhelmingly in favour of the trams.
Construction of the power station commenced with the laying of the foundation stone on the 24th May 1905. A month later, in the presence of a very large crowd the Premier Thomas Bent (later Sir Thomas Bent) laid the first rail at the western end of Racecourse Road.
The two routes were:-
(a) North Essendon from Flemington Bridge along Mt Alexander Road to Puckle Street with double track and then with single track along Pascoe Vale Road, Fletcher Street and Mt Alexander Road to Keilor Road with a passing loop at Essendon Station (route K).
(b) Saltwater River from Flemington Bridge along Mt Alexander Road to Victoria Street, to the river. There was also a short single-track spur in Puckle Street, which was apparently designed to store trams for race meetings at Moonee Valley (route M).
The tracks were constructed on the concrete stringer principal using 90lb rails in 30 feet lengths. Tiebars were spaced at intervals of 7ft 6in and double bonds were made at all rail joints to ensure good negative returns. Special work was of toughened cast steel. Rails were laid in trenches, supported to the correct height by temporary packing. Concrete was then rammed well home up to just below the head of the rail, and when this had set the road surface was reinstated. The final section of track in Mt Alexander Road between Fletcher Street and Keilor Road was placed in the central plantation and laid in open ballasted track using sleeper construction.
The service was opened on Thursday the 11th of October 1906 with a series of ceremonies befitting the culmination of so much effort. The Lady Mayoress of the City of Melbourne drove the first car from the carbarn to the Essendon Town Hall where suitable speeches were made. The Mayoress of Essendon then drove the car to the Saltwater River terminus where as the reception for invited guests was held.
The tram fleet consisted of 15 motor cars – 10 saloon cars and 5 toast-rack cars. In addition there were 10 toast-rack trailer cars. The motor cars were built in the USA by J C Brill and Co and assembled in Australia by Duncan and Fraser of Adelaide. Initially all motor cars were only fitted with handbrakes, however following a severe accident on the 10th September 1923 following takeover by the M&MTB, when a crowded saloon car and trailer got out of control in Mt Alexander Road resulting in the then Board immediately discontinuing the use of trailers and fitted air brakes to the motor cars.
Little is known of the tramways over the next sixteen years however major changes were made to its operations from time to time. In 1913 and extension of 63 years and 24 feet was laid at the city end of the Flemington Bridge terminus. This extension parallel to the cable tram terminus of the MT&O Co were seemingly unimpressed with the invasion into their territory by the NMET&L Co and therefore recorded the appropriate notation in their company minutes to record this fact.
Although the M&MTB took over all of the other electric tramways within Melbourne (with the exception of the two Victorian Railways lines) on the 2nd February 1920, it was not until 1st August 1922 that the Essendon system was finally acquired. After protracted negotiations between the municipalities of Essendon and Melbourne (which incorporated the municipality of Flemington in 1905), the Company and the State Electricity of Victoria, it was agreed that the SECV would purchase the assets of the Company and sell the tramways to the M&MTB for 31,250 pounds.
The original fleet has long since ceased to carry passengers, but many were converted to other uses. Several were retained by the M&MTB for use as service vehicles and continued in service until the late 1970’s. One of the trailers was sold for reuse at Geelong where it was motorised and rebuilt, as a scrubber tram (unofficially numbered No. 13) until scrapped in 1956. Mr Tilbury Thomas a former employee of the NMET&L Co transferred to the then Melbourne Electric Supply Company who operated trams in Geelong from 1912, hence his knowledge of the vehicle Mr Thomas became First Inspector-in-Charge of the Geelong Tramways for the MESCo, then Departmental Superintendent of Tramways for the SECV until his retirement.
Under M&MTB control, the tramways were gradually improved and extended. A direct connection to the City was made in 1925, as was a new line for the Maribyrnong cards direct along Racecourse Road bypassing the Victoria Street line. The Victoria and Puckle Street tracks were removed in 1924/25. The rails from here were believed to have been used in the South Melbourne (Hanna Street) Depot, which was under construction at the time. The condition of the 1905 tramway grooved rails removed from the pits of the South Melbourne Depot by the TMSV/Bendigo Trust in 1997 indicated this to be correct. It is also now believed that the original fittings in this facility may have also come from the Essendon system.
The original depot building still exists today being roads 13 to 18 of the enlarged building. The original depot track-work was replaced during rebuilding due to the original fan being a reverse of that today.
Today only three former NMET&L Co trams remain. Car No 4 became M&MTB “U” Class No. 205. It was converted to an advertising/freight car (2nd) No. 19 (later 19W) in 1947. It was acquired by the TMSV in 1987. Car No. 13 became M&MTB “V” class No. 214. it was converted to freight car No. 2a in 1927 later being renumbered to No. 17 (then 17W). This car was restored by the M&MTB to near original condition as a passenger car and renumbered V 214 in 1979. Trailer car No. 24 was cut down for use as a ballast trailer in the early 1920’s retaining its traffic number. Following several years of disuse, it was acquired by the TMSV in 1982.
Complied and edited by Graham Jordan
References: Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board Annual Report 1980
The Essendon Tramways (2nd Edition) J Richardson – Traction Publications 1963