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Home RUNNING JOURNAL Reflections Cover Photo : Mal Rowe

Geelong today, is the second largest urban area in the State of Victoria, with a population of 91,666 at the 1961 census. It is situated 45 rail miles south west of Melbourne, on the shores of Corio Bay (an arm of Port Phillip Bay). Geelong is Victoria's second port, and has a wide variety of industries. The greater Geelong area now comprises the City of Geelong, City of Geelong West, City of Newtown and Chilwell, and portions of the Shires of Bellarine, South Barwon, and Corio.

Although tramways were considered quite seriously in September, 1888, and an Order-in-Council was made in 1899 to enable routes to be constructed, the residents of Geelong had to wait until 14th March, 1912, to be able to ride a tramcar in their city. The population turned out in force on this memorable day to join in ceremonies and celebrations typical of the period, as electric tramcar No. 4 – suitably decorated – had the distinction of being the official “first tram” to run in Geelong. The Melbourne Electric Supply Company Limited, which already provided the local domestic supply of electricity in Geelong, had obtained the franchise to construct electric tramways in the city and suburban area. Two routes – to Newtown and West Geelong – opened the service, with two short branches to the railway station and wharf (which served a steamer service to Melbourne across Port Phillip Bay), and a short spur line off the latter to a four-track Depot adjacent to the power station and offices. Double track was laid in the central city area with single track and passing loops elsewhere, and provisions at terminii for shunting trailers. The Adelaide firm of Duncan and Fraser built (at the depot) seven open combination type single truck tramcars (of distinctive body style) and four single truck open cross-bench type trailer cars for the service; these cars were numbered 1 to 7 and 1 to 4 respectively.

The (motored) tramcars were originally fitted with small destination boxes at the front of their roofs, magnetic track brakes, tip-over seats in the saloons and link and pin couplers, had a simple style lining-out with double shadows and were embellished with a complex monogram. Originally, there were 3¾ miles of track.

The first extension was opened in November, 1913, to South Geelong, at the Barwon River. During 1913-14, trailers Nos. 1 and 4 were motorised and renumber Nos. 11 and 12 while Duncan and Fraser delivered three new cars from their Adelaide works, to the same design as Nos. 1 to 7. They arrived in 1915, and were numbered 8 to 10. The Company placed three Milnes-Daimler buses (Nos. 1 to 3) in service late in 1912 between the city and East Geelong. The bodies of these vehicles were of the same style as the saloon sections of tramcars Nos. 1 to 10. Their solid rubber tyres apparently had an injurious effect of the roads traversed, as it is reported that they had to be re-routed on occasions to better thoroughfares! However, their bodies in turn suffered heavily during the course of their operations, and were provided with suitable strong bracing. When the East Geelong tramway was opened on 12th October, 1922, they were withdrawn to be sold. However, when the bracing was removed to enable the bodies to be separated from the chassis and lifting ropes attached for the purpose, the bodies collapsed! Thus ended ten years of tramway bus operations in Geelong. It was decided to import two “Birney” type safety cars from U.S.A., and they were duly assembled at the Depot during the middle of 1924. They were numbered 14 and 15, and were fitted with twin trolley poles and trolley retrievers. The number 13 was not used, possibly because of superstitions reasons. The fifth (northern) road was added in the Depot whilst the Birneys were being constructed, and involved a minor re-alignment to the special-work.

The next few years saw considerable expansion of the Geelong tramways, with four route extensions and a number of tramcars being added to the roster. The first extension of trackage was opened on 13th September, 1927, to Chilwell, followed by the line to Belmont on 16th October, 1927 (subsequent to the completion of a new bridge across the Barwon River). The expanding industrial area of North Geelong received its tramway service on 6th July, 1928, while the rails to Eastern Park were put into service on 1st September, 1930 (to serve the large park and recreational area, including the football ground, as well as a residential area). Eight new, large, tramcars were built by the Adelaide firm of Pengalley and Company on “Radiax” trucks. They were of distinctive appearance and massive construction, being fitted with twin trolley poles, because of their 35 feet length. They were the last tramcars to be built in Australia with clerestory roofs, entering service during 1925-26, and being numbered 16 to 23. The two remaining trailers were scrapped in 1925-26, and the two open cross-bench motors (Nos. 11 and 12_ followed in 1928. The Company purchased the body of a former North Melbourne Electric Tramway and Lighting Company Ltd. trailer from the M.&M.T.B. in 1925 for conversion to a track cleaning car, and fitted it to the truck from the scrapped No.11 in 1928. The year 1928 also saw the purchase of seven second-hand single truck open combination tramcars from the M.&M.T.B. These were the latter's class J, having been built in 1915 by the Meadowbank Manufacturing Company, Sydney, for the Prahran and Malvern Tramways Trust. They became Nos. 24 to 30 in the Geelong fleet. The Geelong tramways thus entered the 1930's with 27 single truck tramcars operating over 11¾ miles of track (the maximum reached).

The State Electricity Commission of Victoria was created by Act of Parliament to be the main electricity supply authority of Victoria, and was vested with power to generate same or to purchase existing electricity supply companies. Negotiations were carried out with the Melbourne Electric Supply Company Limited during the late 1920's, and it was agreed that the S.E.C. Should purchase the company from 31st August, 1930.

The S.E.C. quickly surveyed the state of the Geelong tramway system, and found that it was in very good condition (unlike the Ballarat and Bendigo tramways, which were inherited at the same time). Most of Geelong's track was less than ten years old, and all its rolling stock less than twenty years old. However the depression of the 1930's caused a decline in passengers, and it was decided to introduce one-man operation of tramcars, in 1932. The two “Birney” cars (Nos. 14 and 15) were an obvious choice, and Nos. 3 to 10 and 24 to 30 were converted by alterations to their open end compartments. Although this move was not popular with the crews, it operated successfully, and Nos. 1 and 2 were converted in 1935, and Nos. 16 to 19 in 1939. In 1936, the S.E.C. purchased four “Birney” type cars from the Municipal Tramways Trust, Adelaide, when they became surplus upon the closure of the isolated Port Adelaide tramway system. They were placed in service at Geelong, where the other two “Birneys” had proved very popular, and were numbered 27 to 30. To equalise the rolling stock, the original Nos. 27 to 30 were transferred to Ballarat, as part of the rehabilitation of that system. Nos. 14 and 15 had their trolley retrievers removed in 1937, and were converted to single trolley pole cars at the same time. The four “new” cars differed from Nos. 14 and 15 in that the latter were fitted with longitudinal seats and bulkheads behind the motorman's seats, whereas the ex-Adelaide “Birneys” had transverse tip-over seats and no bulkheads. The final route alteration took place on 9th October, 1940, when the short length of track leading to the Wharf was relocated from the Depot to what became known as Beach terminus. Over the years, some duplication of track had taken place, the middle passing loop had been added on the West route, the through connection from West to Newtown/Chilwell routes removed, the loop on Chilwell had been remover, and the loop on North had been relocated on the East route. Modifications to the track layout had taken place at the main city intersection (the corner of Moorabool and Ryrie Streets) as necessary to suit the extension of the routes. An interesting relocation of track took place at the Newtown and Chilwell Town Hall. The date has not yet been ascertained, but it probably took place in conjunction with the opening of the Chilwell route.

The Depot has undergone a number of changes over the years. The 1924 alteration has been mentioned. Subsequently, the rear of the Shed was modified by the extension of the two southern roads. These tracks left the rear of the shed by large doors, crossed the narrow street and entered a two-track building on the other side. This was the Workshop and had a separate one-track Paint Shop situated beyond it. Entrance to the latter was gained by a small traverser, originally built only for single truck tramcars trucks. When bogie cars arrived after World War II, they were moved into the Paint Shop one truck at a time. Clearances at the doorway pillars was critical, so some bricks were removed to ease the position. It is interesting to note that our Canberra member – Jack Richardson – suggested this method as the solution to the problem of how to get the very long overall wheel base bogie cars across the short traverser.

About the end of World War II, the S.E.C. decided to purchase a number of surplus maximum traction bogie cars from the M.&M.T.B. The first four arrived in 1947, becoming Nos. 31 to 35, and were followed by two more in 1948 (Nos. 35 and 36), and four more in 1951 )Nos. 37 to 40). The first six cars were replacements for the six “Birney” cars which where transferred to Bendigo during 1947 to 1949, with the last four were additional units. The Geelong rolling stock thus reached its maximum of 31 passenger tramcars. It is of interest that Geelong was the last tramway system in Australia to operate with an all-single truck car fleet, until the first bogie cars arrived in 1947. The entry of the bogie cars into Geelong spelt the end of an interesting feature of the local tramways – coloured route indicator lights. Although not introduced when the system opened in 1912, they were in use by May, 1915. Four colours were used: red, white, blue and green. At first, there was some concern that the bogie cars might not operate successfully with the public without route lights, but it was soon found that there was no cause for alarm. Consequently, the coloured lights were removed from all single truck cars except Nos. 23 to 26. In 1951, No. 25 was renumbered 28, whilst No. 39 was altered for one-man operation during 1953. However, the Employees Union refused to run the car as a one-man unit, and it continued to operate with a two-man crew. The problem of head-on accidents with motorists on single track sections of the routes caused the S.E.C. to fit red marker lights in the lower outside corners of the dashes during 1951, and to decide to paint the dashes in yellow and black stripes, illuminated by a canopy light, in 1955. The only cars to be done were Nos. 31 to 35, 37 and 4, while No. 5 only had its dashes painted. The project was then cancelled.

Through-routing of cars has been practised for many years. Before and after World War II, cars ran as follows:- Newtown to City; West to City; Chilwell to East; Eastern Park to City; Belmont to North. Newtown and West cars ran to Beach and the railway as required. About the end of 1952, amendments were made as follows:- Chilwell to Beach or Station; East to West; Newtown to Eastern Park; North to Belmont. Short workings were timetabled as follows: East – to Humble Street (the far end of the loop); North – Victoria Street, and Mackay Street (one stop short of the terminus); Belmont – the Railway overbridge, and South Geelong. Most single track sections were protected by colour light signals operated by the trolley wheel passing through a contactor on the overhead trolley wire. Details of the coloured route indicator lights are :- Newtown – green; West – red; East – blue; Chilwell – green and blue; Belmont – white; North – red and white; Eastern Park – blue and white.

Subsequent to an enquiry, the State Government announced plans to replace the Geelong trams with privately operated bus services in November, 1955. The closure was to be undertaken in four steps: firstly, on January 8th, 1956 the last cars ran on the routes to East, West and Chilwell, together with the latter's regular workings to Beach and Railway. Cars were provided on the two latter as required. The second abandonment was on 24th January, when Newtown and Eastern Park routes ceased. The third closure was the route to North on 4th March, while Belmont went out in a real blaze of glory on 25th March, 1956. No. 4 – which had opened the system- was suitably decorated as the official last tram and preceded bogies Nos. 38, 31 and 33 to Belmont terminus, so that it would be the last tram to return. A huge crowd was present, and a number of ceremonies took place during the final return trip. Pengelley cars Nos. 17 and 18 ran the Sunday afternoon and early evening service, but were changed over for Nos. 38 and 31 before the “last run”. No. 33 was run out when the size of the crowd became known. It had been planned to use Nos. 31 and 38 because these two bogie cars were to be scrapped, while the other eight were due to be (or had already been) sent to Ballarat and Bendigo. All the single truck cars and the track cleaner were scrapped and sold. Although ten years have rolled by since the Geelong Tramways were closed, quite a deal of track remains in the roadways, despite quite a lot having been lifted during 1965. In some thoroughfares it can be seen beneath the bituminous coating, while elsewhere no attempt has been made to either cover of remove it. The eight bogies cars (and four of the six “Birneys” still carry passengers in Ballarat and Bendigo, whilst bodies and some of the single truck cars are still in existence in various parts of Geelong and the surrounding districts. The T.M.S.V. Has negotiated for the body of Pengelley No. 22, wich is in remarkably good condition, and some roof-painting work has already been carried out on it. Pengelley's Nos. 17 and 21 have been made available by their owners for spare parts with which to help restore No. 22. And so it is hoped that some small portion of the Geelong Tramways will be preserved for posterity, in addition to the many photographs, quantities of film and historical records that are already available.

A Short History of the  Tramways of Geelong K. S. Kings – Volume 2, Number 3, January 1966