Perth Tramways

1899 - 1958

Perth Tram 64 Hay St East
Tram 64 picks up workers outside the Car Barn as it turns into Hay Street.

Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, is situated on the Northern bank of the Swan River, about 15 kilometres upstream from the port town of Fremantle. Perth was first settled in 1829 - a British colony. Its isolation meant that for many years growth - population and economic - was slow.

In the 1890s significant gold discoveries were made in the state, notably at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, the latter the site of the famous "Golden Mile". These discoveries, together with increasing agricultural activity, brought increased prosperity and increased population to Perth.

The population increase meant, as in other places, the development and spread of suburban living, but towns and cities could not grow beyond a certain physical size unless public transport was made available.

A railway had been opened in 1881 from Femantle, through Perth, to link to Guildford and the agricultural regions beyond. Passenger services were established, and stations were built at some of the isolated settlements such as Claremont. Early suburban growth could easily follow the railway, but to develop suburbs away from the railway, an alternative form of transport was required.

The tramway system which developed was a radial one, centred on Perth city, and with its major purpose to transport people from their homes in the suburbs to their work in the city. The same trams would be used for shopping trips to the big Perth stores such as Bon Marche, Aherns and Boans.

Perth Trams Barrack St
In Barrack St, passengers board for Inglewood.
A B-class tram is turning right into Murray St., while the conductor resets the points.

As the suburbs grew, so did the tram lines. The Inglewood line along Beaufort Street, for example, had a number of short extensions of a few hundred metres, to keep pace with the expansion of housing.

As in some other tramway or trolley systems in towns of rapid population growth, extensions of the system were sometimes organised, paid for, or even operated, by land developers. Trams helped in this way to sell blocks of land in Mount Lawley Estate, the Maylands subdivision, and the outer suburbs of Nedlands Park and Osborne Park.

As the system developed, leisure activities began to be an important secondary focus, and no doubt a good revenue source for the tramways. Water activities were popular: two public swimming baths on the Swan River were served by the line around Mounts Bay Road - Crawley ("City") Baths and Nedlands Baths. Indeed, so popular was the Nedlands Baths area that it was for a time served by two tram lines, the other being through Subiaco.

Cricket headquarters was at the WACA ground, adjacent to the Carbarn in East Perth. Football was also played at this ground. Football headquarters at Subiaco Oval was served by the Hay St route, Loton Park (Perth Oval) was adjacent to the route along Lord St, and also close to Beaufort St, while Leederville Oval was close to the route along Oxford St.

A popular destination sign in later years was "TROTS", referring to the harness racing at what is now called Gloucester Park, also very close to the Carbarn.

The Perth Zoo could be reached by the South Perth tram across the Causeway, although another popular route was by tram to Barrack Square and then ferry to South Perth.

w
Beginnings: 1899 - 1913

Perth tramways were initially operated by a British company, Perth Electric Tramways Limited. Track construction started on January 30, 1899, and services officially started on September 28 of that year. The first line ran 4.8 kilometres along Hay Street, from the Carbarn in East Perth [near the WACA cricket ground] to Thomas Street, West Perth. There was a spur line along Colin St, West Perth, to serve residences and give access to Kings Park.

Perth Tram 10 Wellington St
Original A-class tram 10, shown in Wellington St at Barrack St.

Further lines were built in subsequent years:

  • Subiaco (along Hay St and Rokeby Rd to Thomas St.)
  • Nedlands (extension from Subiaco along Thomas St and Broadway to Nedlands Baths)
  • Wellington St East (via Hill St and Kensington St to Trafalgar Rd)
  • Wellington St West (to Thomas St)
  • Mounts Bay Rd (to Pt Lewis)
  • Mount Lawley (via Beaufort St and Walcott St to York St)
  • Victoria Park (via The Causeway and Albany Hwy)
  • Lincoln St (via Lord St)
  • North Perth (via Bulwer St and Fitzgerald St to Albert St)
  • Leederville (via Newcastle St and Oxford St)
  • Osborne Park (extension from Leederville along Main St to Royal St)

These routes, together with other city track, gave a total of around 37 route kilometres by June 30, 1913. At that time there were 53 tramcars in the fleet: 44 four-wheel "single truck" cars, and 9 of the larger "bogie" cars.

The Beaufort St lines ran from a terminus at Barrack Square, which connected with the ferry service to Mends St Jetty, South Perth.

w
Nationalisation and expansion: 1913 - 1930

The privately run tramways were profitable, but would require funds for further expansion. The State Government decided to purchase them, and operations under government control began on July 1, 1913. The system was run as part of the Western Australian Government Railways [WAGR] - this continued until 1949 when a separate Western Australian Government Tramways and Ferries [WAGT] department was established. One advantage of the arrangement was that tramcar bodies could be economically constructed at the WAGR workshops at Midland Junction. A disadvantage was that new tram routes which might have competed too directly with the railways had little chance of approval.

Knowing that its operations would be taken over, the PET Co, in its final years running the system, had naturally not wished to spend more than the minimum required amount on maintenance. The government therefore inherited a somewhat rundown system. While maintaining a cautious financial approach, the government embarked on a programme of track and fleet renewal, with some expansion.

Perth Tram 86 Car Barn
Perth D-class 86, built 1921, shown in original form in front of the Carbarn.
Each side had four fixed windows - the remainder were unglazed, but had pull-down blinds.

Under Government ownership, the same general approach of connecting developing residential areas with the city centre continued, with links to leisure facilities being a bonus where possible.

The other main system expansions occurred during this period:

Perth Tram Interior The interior of a D class tram, similar to other Perth bogie cars. This utilitarian finish, featuring wooden seats with tip-over backs, was standard.
  • Nedlands extension of Mounts Bay Road line to Nedlands Baths
  • Inglewood (via Beaufort St to Dundas Rd)
  • Claremont (via Thomas St and Stirling Highway)
  • South Perth Zoo (via Causeway and Angelo St)
  • Como (from Mends St Jetty, via Labouchere Rd)
  • Maylands (along Guildford Rd to Ferguson St)
  • Mt Lawley North Perth (Walcott St to Blake St)
  • Claremont (via Mounts Bay Rd and Stirling Highway)
  • Westana Rd (from Claremont Station via Victoria Avenue)
  • Wembley (via Woolwich St and Cambridge St to Nanson St)

Closures:

  • Wellington St West - abandoned by early 1920s
  • Colin St to Kings Park Road - abandoned 1930

w
Depression doldrums: 1930 - 1939

The worldwide depression of the 1930s had effects in Perth similar to those in many other places.

Although people were less able to afford private transport, patronage on trams also suffered: due to high unemployment, fewer could afford to catch public transport. After years of steadily increasing patronage there was a sudden and marked decrease after 1930.

Maintenance of the fleet and infrastructure was difficult due to financial considerations. Conversion to trolley bus operation was found to be cheaper than upgrading and converting single track lines to double track.

Perth Tram 126 The most obvious external feature distinguishing 126-130 was the wide central cab window.

There had been a continuing need for further tramcars to be built, but in the end this was possible only by reusing equipment from some older vehicles. As it turned out, the last new tramcars for Perth were #126-130, completed in 1932-4.

Expansions:

  • Inglewood - extension to Salisbury St
  • Victoria Park - extension to Patricia St
  • Wembley - extension to Alexander St

Closures:

  • Wellington St East - replaced by trolleybus in 1933
  • Westana Rd / Claremont Station - abandoned 1935
  • Claremont - replaced by trolleybus in 1938
  • Wembley - replaced by trolleybus in 1939

w
Wartime: 1939 - 1945

Public transport demand and usage was high during the war years, caused by rationing of fuel for private transport, and by high employment, especially in war-related industries. At the same time, funds were scarce, and although the fleet and infrastructure were of an age where maintenance would normally become heavier, much had to be "deferred". Materials and personnel directed into the war effort were also a factor.

Final system expansions occurred:

  • Inglewood line extended by 400 metres to reach Grand Promenade
  • Victoria Park line extended by 1.6 kilometres to serve the munitions factory at Welshpool

Closures:

  • Crawley to Nedlands line, 1938
Dismantling and closure - Why the trams stopped: 1948 - 1958
Perth Tram 109 Rokeby Rd Tram 109 has just left the Subiaco terminus in Rokeby Rd., and is returning to the city.

The depression followed by the war had thrown together a combination of factors which eventually proved to be lethal for the tramways: an aging tramcar fleet, aging infrastructure and years of delayed maintenance had all compounded by heavy use during the war years.

The fact that much of the track was single, including some at the side of the road, would have meant additional expense if it were decided to modernise the tramway system.

The shortage of funds for rehabilitation also applied to operations - buses, as well as being more flexible and cheaper to acquire, would also be cheaper to operate as they could be operated by one person, which was not possible for the Perth trams of the time.


There was the additional feeling among many that trams were oldfashioned and inflexible, and their overhead wires were unsightly. Increased use of private cars, especially after the ending of petrol rationing in 1949, reduced tram patronage and increased crowding on the roads - the trams were seen as a problem for the cars.

Thus it was a combination of financial problems with a lack of will to overcome them which ultimately caused the closure of the tramway system.

Perth Tram 92 Murray St Trams 92 and 127 in Murray Street near Barrack Street.

Closures:

  • Osborne Park line beyond Mt Hawthorn [1948]
  • Nedlands route beyond Subiaco [1949]
  • "Causeway" lines - Welshpool, Victoria Park, South Perth, Como [1950]
  • Mt Hawthorn Oxford St [1951] - replaced by trolleybus
  • Maylands [1951]
  • Mt Lawley-North Perth [1953] - replaced initially by motorbus, then by trolleybus in 1958
  • Newcastle St [1953] - replaced by trolleybus
  • North Perth [February 1958]
  • Subiaco [April 1958]
  • Inglewood [19 July 1958] - replaced by trolleybus

w

Perth Tramcars

This table gives some information about the Perth tramcar fleet.

Tramcar
numbers
Class In
service
Capacity Description
1 - 10
[1st]
A
[original]
1899 24 seated
17 standing
Single truck saloon.
Body: JG Brill, USA
Windows unglazed.
11 - 19
[1st]
B
[original]
1899 24 seated
17 standing
Single truck saloon.
Body: Jackson "&" Sharp Co., USA
20 - 30
[1st]
B
[original]
1903 24 seated
17 standing
Single truck saloon.
Body: St Louis Car Co., USA
Wider and longer than earlier B cars.
31 - 34 F 1903 64 seated
28 standing
Bogie saloon.
Body: USA [?]
35 - 39 G 1903 56 seated
20 standing
Bogie saloon.
Body: JG Brill, USA
Formerly Kalgoorlie Electric Tramways numbers 16 - 20
40 - 45 B 1905 32 seated
16 standing
Single truck saloon.
Body: Perth Electric Tramway Workshops, East Perth
46 - 50 B 1907 32 seated
16 standing
Single truck semi-convertible saloons
Body: Westralia Ironworks, Fremantle
51 - 53 B 1912 32 seated
16 standing
Single truck semi-convertible saloons.
Body: WA Government Railways Workshops, Midland Junction
54 - 61 C 1913 36 seated
9 standing
Single truck drop-end closed combination.
Body: WAGR
62 H 1914 50 seated
12 standing
Bogie centre-entrance saloon.
Body: JG Brill, USA
63 I 1914 50 seated
12 standing
Bogie stepless saloon.
Body: JG Brill, USA
64 - 73 E 1917 64 seated
28 standing
Bogie saloon.
Body: WAGR
1 - 10 B 1918-9 32 seated
16 standing
Single truck semi-convertible saloon.
Body: WAGR
Converted from original A class.
11 - 30 B 1914-9 32 seated
16 standing
Single truck semi-convertible saloon.
Body: WAGR
Converted from original B class.
74 - 83 B 1919 32 seated
16 standing
Single truck semi-convertible saloon.
Body: WAGR
84 - 103 D 1921-2 64 seated
28 standing
Multiple-unit bogie saloon.
Body: WAGR
104 - 113 A 1924 64 seated
28 standing
Bogie saloon.
Body: WAGR
114 - 123 A 1927-8 64 seated
28 standing
Bogie saloon.
Body: WAGR
124 - 125 A 1930 64 seated
28 standing
Bogie saloon.
Body: WAGR
126 - 130 A 1932-3 64 seated
28 standing
Bogie saloon.
Body: WAGR
w
HISTORY BOOK Tracks By The Swan Cover The story of Perth and its trams and trolley buses - 312 pages, richly illustrated ...
[+] Read more...

Tracks Facebook link


psm
PETS Contacts:
General:
Street Address:
Whiteman Park
Whiteman
Western Australia
Postal Address:
PO Box 257
Mount Lawley
Western Australia
Australia . . . 6929
Telephone:
(08) 9443 1945
Tram-car Hire:
0428 782 955
Workshops (Tuesday/Wednesday):
(08) 9249 2777
Web-Site:
Technical ... For best viewing of this web site, we suggest:
  • Internet Explorer 8+
  • Safari 3+
  • Firefox 3+

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict