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Home RUNNING JOURNAL Reflections Cover Photo : Mal Rowe

December 23, 1923, marked the beginning of a new era for Melbourne's electric tramways - the first "standard" tramcar officially entered service. There had been nothing exactly like No. 219 before. True, a few somewhat similar trams existed, and the various former individual operators possibly thought of one or successive types of their cars as their standard tram. But Melbourne's electric trams (except the V.R.'s lines) were now united administratively, and plans for physical union were afoot.

Whereas the M&MTB inherited a wonderfully standard (extremely efficient) cable tram system, the electric tramways were a scattered collection of mostly small, independent units. Each had its own management thoughts, operating ideas, staff conditions. On union, each wanted to keeps its "good" points while adding an envied item from a neighbour. The result was a "shake-out" lasting some time, one product of which was the "W" series of electric tramcars. That a "standard" tram was urgently needed was undeniable. Of the 146 electric trams the M&MTB inherited, the 103 single truck cars comprised 10 types while there were 5 variations in the 43 bogie cars! The many variations in basic body styles, minor differences due to several body builders being used, different equipment (motors, controllers, trolley bases, etc.), all intermingled, adding to the problems of creating a unified whole from such a diversified array.

Even the sketch designs for the "standard" trams had a protracted career. Many were prepared and rejected before final agreement was reach. But eventually the Nicholson Street cable tram workshops commenced fabrication of car underframes and trucks, and soon timber bodies were being built on the former in sheds erected behind the North Fitzroy cable tramcar barn. And from this beginning, in a workshop of doomed mode of transport, and in temporary sheds, there arose the second largest class of electric tramcars to be built in Australia (410 presently classed as W2 and SW2; Sydney had 626 O & OP cars), which, with direct derivatives, eventually totaled 760 trams. These makeshift premises eventually built about 46 W Class cars before the M&MTB's production was transferred to the new Preston Workshops.

Many modifications - varying from minor to significant - have been made to all thse tramcars during their lifetime. Most changes are visible, but some are hidden behind body panels; all generally adopted have improved the cars; a few were tried on one or more cars but not perpetuated. It would be a lengthy task to detail and discuss these variations; regrettably it cannot be attempted in this article. Some of the changes have been dealt with in the article entitled "The W2 Story - A Short History of a Class" by Norman Cross in the June, 1971 issue of "Running Journal", and readers are referred to it for greater detail on these cars.

This screed is intended to note and commemorate the "Golden Anniversary" of the class of tramcar which has formed the backbone of the rolling stock of Melbourne's electric tramways since the early days of its "creator"; to record that 200 - W class trams were built, together with 30 - W1 and 180 - W2 cars, all to the same basic design; and to chronicle that 226 cars of the two former groups were converted to W2 type with the remaining four cars becoming SW2 series. (Subsequently, two more cars have been converted to SW2 class). Of these 410 tramcars, 322 are still available for daily service, five have been converted for non-traffic purposes, and 12 are stored. Thus, although 71 of these veterans have been withdrawn and scrapped since 1959, it will obviously be many years before the last one ceases to serve the people of Melbourne.

Today, half a century later, another new era is bursting upon Melbourne's tramways in the form of No. 1041. But before we move onwards and into the future, let us pause and reflect on the past, and quietly say "Thanks No. 219. Happy Birthday - and a few more yet".

A Salute to Our Veterans Keith Kings - Running Journal Vol. 10 No. 6 Dec 1973