I often find it very hard to give a precise answer when anybody asks me why I am interested in trams, but when I am asked how I did become interested in trams I usually think back to 1956 when I was in grade one at primary school.
The family and I used to go down to the beach at Brighton and I can remember looking forward to seeing the “Railway Trams” running along The Esplanade. I never referred to them as “Funny Trams” as I did to such cars as the “T's” of the M.&M.T.B.
As a child, what intrigued me most was the destination boxes set high upon the roof and the “ROBUR” advertisement boards which were placed in the unusual (when thinking of the M.&M.T.B.) position along the roof. I'll always remember one of the bogie cars that I saw speeding along The Esplanade near Dendy Street one sunny day about the time of the Melbourne Olympic Games in November 1956.
Earlier in 1956, I had my “lucky break” when I was taken on a tour organised by the A.E.T.A. Covering the whole line in single-trucker No 6. This was the first time I had ever been for a ride in a single-truck car and I can remember asking the driver why it wobbled so much and why he had to turn the trolley-pole at the terminus! That was the only time that I rode on the line, and my recollections of seeing the line after it was “pruned” are rather vague. I do remember seeing the chocking condition of the roads, and my last recollection of the line was seeing one of the “Luxury” cars in Barkly Street in January 1959 after I had paid a visit to Luna Park.
The railway trams, like so many other tramway systems in Australia, “went” during the 1950's. Perhaps we can consider them, like so many of the others, too “unique” to the last into the “Jet-Set” age of the 1960's.
No 29 at Middle Brighton terminus. Photo: Jim Seletto
The tramway declined after the end of the second World War and in 1953, the Victorian Railways and other transport authorities directed a firm resolve towards the cessation of the service. St. Kilda and Elwood residents were firmly opposed to the closure of the line but nevertheless, the first abandonment was made on New Year's Day, 1957 when car 43 made the final trip along The Esplanade. This section was not replaced by a bus service.
Six months later car 30 made the last trip along St. Kilda Street to Middle Brighton, and the Eastern Suburbs Omnibus Service replaced the tram service with a bus route to Elwood Depot and then to St. Kilda Station via Point Ormond.
The “California” cars and several of the newer cars were disposed of about the time of the closures beyond Elwood Depot because the number of cars required to operate the service between St. Kilda and Elwood was only 9 compared with 16 during the last years of the entire line to Brighton Beach.
The “St. Kilda and Brighton Electric Street Railway (Dismantling) Act No. 6469” was passed by Parliament on 4-12-1958 and a decision was made to close the line and to issue a license for the replacing bus service to be operated by private enterprise.
It was decided that the final closure date would the 28th. February, 1959. The roadway between St. Kilda and Elwood was in a extremely bad state of repair, and the prohibitive cost of bringing this and the cars to a reasonable standard helped to bring about the end of the trams. Also, of course, the fact that more and more people were able to afford private cars resulted in a falling off in the numbers of people being carried on the trams. Today, as we know, this problem is becoming worse.
Only 4 cars – 28, 29, 35 & 39 ran the last day and the “class-leader” of the “bogie” cars, No. 28, was the last car to operate over the line about midnight. It left St. Kilda Station with about 200 passenger pack aboard, and by the time in reached Elwood Depot at about 12.35 a.m., nearly 1000 people had turned out to see the cars for the last time and joined in singing “Auld Lang Syne”. The crew of the last car was Motorman F. O'Brien and Conductor C. Hughs.
39 crosses 36 at Vautier St. Photo: Jim Seletto
The section points were at Dickens Street, Vautier Street and the Depot. The through fare was 1/- 10c., (child 6d – 5c); 2 sections 9d – 8c (5d – 4c); 1 section 6d – 5c (3d – 2c); this schedule applied from 14th, September. 1958.
On 1st, March, 1959, a privately operated bus service owned by Melbourne – Brighton Bus Lines Pty. Ldt. took over and followed the tram route from St. Kilda Station as far as Park St., Middle Brighton.
As is usual, local workers and school-children did not approve of the change-over judging from the comments expressed in “THE HERALD”, the following Monday; but there was nothing they could do to get the trams back.
Once the traffic side of the system had ceased, the “end” was still a way off, for the cars had to be disposed, and it was several weeks before the last car left the depot. The bogie cars were sold mainly for use as cabins or sleep-outs, but luckily No34 is now in the hands of the T.M.S.V. And we will always have something to remember the “Railway Trams” by. The “Luxury” cars went to the M.&M.T.B. But only 52 and 53 entered service after modifications. Today, most of the cars sold as cabins are in a bad state of repair, after having spent the last ten years exposed to the elements without any maintenance.
Main-line power was disconnected on March 1st, but the power in the shed from the sub-station was not turned off until 15th, April, 1959. Once the Trolley wires were down, the track had to be pulled up and the roadway rebuilt. It was not until May, 1962 that the final work was done on the rebuilding of the roadway.
The depot became the garage of the Melbourne – Brighton Bus Lines who demolished the third shed and the offices; later still the sub-station was deomolished to make way for a small housing estate.
So, 10 years later there is little evidence of the “Railway Trams” left about the former “happy hunting grounds”.
Even the bus service operated along the tram route has changed bevause the “Freighter mono-buses” that replaced the trams have been sold and the service is now worked mainly by A.E.C. Reliances that formerly worked the M.B.B.L.'s 2 city routes.
The route is number 140A., and the service operated full-time with the exception of the Sunday mornings when the buses only operate to “Head Street” which is used instead the “Elwood Depot”. The full service is basically every 12 or 16 minutes during the off-peak period increasing to 8 minutes during the peak. Night time and Sunday service is 24 minutes. The service is stepped up at the St. Kilda end with extra buses to “Beach Avenue” (“Vautier Street”).
There are section points at Dickens Street, Milton Street, Beach Avenue, Head Street, North Road, Bay Street and Park Street. Due to the Shorter length of the sections a special fare schedule exist and there are also two special sections – St Kilda Railway to Inkerman Street and Acland Street to Glenhuntly Road. Also periodical tickets are available to cover travel on the bus and train and it is also possible to buy daily train tickets from the bus driver at a slightly reduced rate.
So, after 10 years we can still remember the “Railway Trams” which were Victoria's first permanent line. Perhaps your recollections were seen through different eyes to mine, but nevertheless that will be the way several other young people and I see them.
The appendix is a list of the “fates” of the “Railway Trams” which I compiled with the valued assistance of the Rev. L. Marshall-Wood and Graeme Turnbull.
I am also idebted to the Rev. L. Marshall-Wood for allowing me to use several of the facts from his “THE BRIGHTON ELECTIC LINE” book in this article.
Editors note: The appendix has been omitted from this “Reflection” as it will be very out of date, it can how ever be found in Running Journal Vol 5 No 5