W-class Melbourne tram

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W class
A W6-class tram in Victoria Street
W6 992 in Victoria Street
Manufacturer Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board
Assembly Holden Body Builders
Holden Street Workshops
James Moore & Sons
Preston Workshops
Constructed 1923–1956
Number built 752
Number in service 38 in Melbourne (26 in revenue service, 12 on City Circle)
Fleet numbers 219–1040 (Not all numbers in that range are used by W classes)
Depots Glenhuntly & Southbank
Specifications
Electric system(s) 600 V DC, Catenary
Current collection method Trolley pole or pantograph
Gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge[1]

W class trams are family of electric trams built by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board between 1923 and 1956. Over the 33 years of production, 752 vehicles spanning 12 sub-classes were constructed, the majority at the MMTB's Preston Workshops.

A small fleet continue to operate on the tramway network of Melbourne, Australia, where they are used on the City Circle tourist route, the North Richmond to Prahran / St Kilda Beach route (routes 78/79), the St Vincents Plaza to Docklands route (route 30) and the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant service. The W class tram is a cultural icon to Melbourne, those that remain in Melbourne are classified by the National Trust of Australia.

As well as Melbourne, W class trams operate on tourist and heritage systems across the world. A number of older variants have been withdrawn from service and later sent to cities such as Copenhagen, Savannah and Seattle, and private enthusiasts.

History[edit]

W-class trams were introduced to Melbourne in 1923 as a new standard design. They had a dual bogie layout and were characterised by a substantial timber frame supplanted by a steel under frame, a simple rugged design, and fine craftsmanship (particularly the older models). The W class was the mainstay of Melbourne's tramways system for 60 years. A total of 752 trams of all variants were built.

A W5 class tram, 1969

The W2 variant was supplemented in the late 1930s by 120 W5 (or "Clyde") class trams with wider cabins, and more powerful motors, however these were notorious for being difficult to drive smoothly. The W6 followed on, and became the most popular W-class tram with crews and passengers alike as they were fast, smooth and comfortable, compared with earlier W variants. Construction came to a halt for some years, with the final 40 W-class trams emerging from the Preston Workshops in 1956, when the need to provide something more capable of dealing with Olympic Games crowds than Bourke Street's buses prompted the last expansion of the network.

The W7 class with its pneumatic sliding doors and softer suspension proved popular with passengers. It was not until the 1990s that the W class was finally considered surplus to rolling stock requirements.

In 1992 an official mass withdrawal of the W class was announced by the then transport minister Alan Brown, this was generally due to over 200 W class remaining in service while the newer Z-class trams were in storage in varying locations, displaced by the newer A and B class vehicles. Protests over the disappearing icons brought about a reconsideration of the withdrawal policy, so it was decided 53 Ws would be retained for tourist purposes. The popular zero-fare City Circle tourist route commenced in April 1994 using 12 of the 53 trams retained.[2]

Today[edit]

In mid-2000 all operating W class trams were removed from service following a series of incidents involving brake problems. Some returned to service in May 2001 on the City Circle route, with 25 operating in September 2003. The return of another 30 W class was announced in September 2003, with all to be in service by late 2003, but on more limited routes than before their withdrawal from service.[3] All 53 were reintroduced to service by 2004.[4] The reintroduction followed the installation of new braking systems, speedometers, and the imposition of a 40 km/h speed limit. The trolley poles were subsequently replaced with pantographs.[3]

The condition of the W-class fleet was criticised by the Rail Tram and Bus Union in September 2008, with a demand for the State Government to repair or withdraw them. A Yarra Trams spokesman said that the fleet met maintenance standards, but required more cosmetic work than other trams due to their wooden structure and age.[4]

In January 2010, it was announced by transport minister Martin Pakula that the 26 W-class trams operating the inner city revenue services would be phased out by 2012, claiming that they were no longer suitable for revenue service and would be replaced by more modern trams.[5] This prompted a new campaign from the National Trust of Australia to retain the W class trams in service.[6] It was also proposed that unused W class trams could be better utilised by refurbishing and leasing them as "roving ambassadors" to other cities, with the claim that this could generate revenue for investment into the public transport system.[7]

Following a change in government, in May 2011 $8 million over four years was allocated for the restoration of eight W class trams, with options for new routes to be considered.[8][9] The restoration is occurring at Preston Workshops (where many W class trams were originally built), with the resultant tram being dubbed W8s, they are receiving full rebuilds and many upgrades, including modernised braking and suspension.[10] The first, W8 946 entered service in March 2013,[11] while the second, W8 959 returned from 18 months of work performed at Bendigo Tramways in June 2013.[12][13]

Today 38 W class trams are in service on the Melbourne tram network,[14] 12 run on the zero-fare City Circle tourist route, and 26 are used in revenue service.[15] In revenue service they operate on route 30 along La Trobe Street, 78 North Richmond to Prahran and 79 North Richmond to St Kilda Beach.[15] Three W6 class trams have been converted for use on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant service which operate three meal services daily, the services can operate across the metropolitan system.

As of 2014 the current operator of Melbourne's trams Yarra Trams have begun to remove W class trams from service. On the 27th of July with the introduction of the new tram timetable, W class trams are planned to be removed from route 78, 79 and route 30. W class trams have already been removed from route 78 and 79. These routes were the last revenue service routes remaining to the trams. This schedule seems to have escaped media attention. At this stage the City Circle route seems to be the only continuing route using the trams, although Yarra Trams is noted to have said that this route cannot be guaranteed either due to the trams being "past their use-by date".

As at 2011 a further 175 were in store at Newport Workshops and Preston Workshops.[16]

Preservation[edit]

The W-class tramcars are highly popular trams in preservation both throughout Australia and around the world.

A number of W class trams were used in the filming of the HBO mini-series The Pacific, including W3-class tram number 667.[17]

A number of W-class trams have been sent overseas, including five that were sold to Seattle between 1978 and 1993, where they operated as Seattle's own heritage streetcar line, George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line, between 1982 and 2005. Since 1990, public outrage has forced an embargo to be placed on the sale of these trams to any overseas interest.

In February 2004, after some years of negotiation, a W-Class tram was shipped to Edmonton as an ambassador for the City of Melbourne. The tram operates as part of the High Level Bridge Streetcar fleet connecting Old Strathcona to Downtown.[18]

Two unrelated MATAs, the Dallas MATA and the Memphis MATA both run W-class trams on their downtown streetcar services. A highly modified W class tram began running in 2009 along River Street in Savannah, Georgia, its AC motors powered by biodiesel-fueled generators.

W6 965 at the Danish Tramway Museum

In 2005 a tram was restored at a cost of $25,000 and given as a wedding present from the Victorian Government to Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. Shipping line Maersk transported the tram to Denmark free of charge, waiving the estimated bill of $40,000.[19]

Subclasses[edit]

W[edit]

There were 200 W class trams built from 1923 to 1926. They could seat 52 passengers with room for 93 people standing.[20] They were built by the MMTB in their Holden Street Workshop and the Preston Workshops.[21] Some were also built by private companies including James Moore and Sons of South Melbourne, and Holden Body Builders of Adelaide.[21] All 200 were converted to W2s between 1928 and 1933. No. 380 was converted back to original condition in 1988 for the Heritage Fleet.[21]

W1[edit]

There were 30 W1 class trams built between 1925 and 1928. They were a variation on the W class trams and used a different seating arrangement. The middle of the tram was open like the earlier cable cars and allowed passengers to get on and off the tram quickly. However in cold and wet weather the openings were only covered by pull down blinds. Passengers were looking for more comfort and these trams were later converted to the W2 design.[22] Four SW2s have been converted back to W1 in preservation.

W2/SW2[edit]

A W2 class tram overloaded with passengers in Brunswick Street, North Fitzroy in 1944

The W2 were introduced in 1927 and remained in service until their final withdrawal in mid-1987.

The 406-strong class was the backbone of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB)'s vast fleet during their heyday from the 1940s to 1960s. Most class members had been converted from the earlier W & W1 classes. The trams featured two enclosed saloon areas at either end of the tram and an open "drop-centre" section in the middle. A trademark feature of these vehicles until the 1970s was their uncomfortable wooden bench-style seats, a feature they shared with most other Melbourne trams of that period.

Mechanically, they had four under-floor motors powering two sets of the MMTB's "Number one" bogies. The driver's controls were made by Westinghouse, Dick Kerr controllers, and Clyde Engineering controllers. The W2 class also had many variant gears within the tram bogies, the 'Spur'-geared W2 classes were notable due to their humming sound.

Two of the W2 class had their roller blind doors converted to sliding doors and were reclassed SW2. Four W1 class were converted directly to SW2 class.

Towards the end of their useful lives, many class members were converted to service (non-passenger) stock such as carborundum rail scrubbers, permanent-way vehicles, rail grinders and breakdown units. A large number of units were also sold to museums and public transport operators in Australia and around the world, with some still running today.

From 1978 until 1982 many W2s were painted by well-known Australian Artists as part of the "Transporting Art" program. In 1981 W2 442 was converted for use with the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, entering service in 1983.[23] The last W2 to run in regular service in Melbourne ran in December 1987 on route 93 La Trobe Street to Bundoora, although a small number were used well into the early 1990s during extended tram shortages.

W3[edit]

Preserved W3 661 in original livery at Lake Wendouree, Ballarat in March 2011

The W3 class trams were built between 1930 and 1934. These were the first trams to use an all steel frame.[24] There were 16 trams built at the Preston workshops.[25] They were built from parts and equipment which had been intended for building Y1 class trams.[26]:32. They had larger wheels, 33 inches in diameter, which were designed to provide a smoother and quieter ride.[25] These wheels came from scrapped S and T class trams.[26]:32. These larger wheels made the tram body sit higher, and the floors in the drop centre were ramped to reduce the step into the saloon.[26]:32

During the 1960s the trams developed cracks in the frame which held the motors and all were withdrawn from service by 1969.[25]

W4[edit]

Preserved W4 671 in advertising livery in Ballarat in December 2012

There were five W4 class trams built between 1933 and 1935. They had a wider body and lower floor than the W3, and had transverse seating in the saloon. They were all withdrawn by 1968.[27] The wider body of the tram meant the drivers found it difficult to see the steps.[26]:33

CW5/W5/SW5[edit]

SW5 728 in advertising livery on the corner of Flinders & Market Streets in 2007

The SW5 class was introduced between 1939 and 1941 and are still in use today.

Five (numbers 681 - 685) were rebuilt from old C class trams and were called the CW5 class. Fleet numbers 686 to 719 were reserved for more of this type but no more were converted. The CW5s were later converted to W5s.

SW5 class trams have sliding doors, improved drop centre seating, hopper windows in the saloons and round cornered windscreens to differentiate themselves from W5-class trams. Trams 840 – 849 were built as SW5-class trams, two W5-class trams were converted to SW5s in 1956, with an additional 83 W5-class trams converted between 1983 and 1986.

After 1986 the SW5s converted from W5s were essentially the same in appearance to the original SW5s owing to the removal of the middle door, addition of sliding doors to replace weather blinds and rounded corner windscreens. The main visual differences post conversion were the saloon windows, which unlike the original SW5s didn't have hopper windows and the retention of internal wooden bulk heads.

During the mass withdrawal of the W classes in 1994–96, the majority of this class was retired in preference to the higher class-Ws, this was due to the discovery of asbestos in the controllers.

As of December 2013, 2 remain in service with Yarra Trams for use on the City Circle Tram route with 2 stored operational at Preston Workshops in "ready reserve".

Fleet numbers[edit]

SW5-class trams have unusual fleet numbers, W5-class trams retained their original fleet numbers after conversion to SW5s.

  • CW5 converted to W5: 681 - 685
  • W5 converted to SW5: 681 – 682, 721 – 734, 736 – 750, 752 – 755, 757 – 760, 764 – 765, 767 – 770, 773, 775 – 777, 780 – 781, 784 – 791, 793, 796 – 797, 800, 802, 805 – 812, 814 – 816, 818 – 819, 824, 828 – 830, 834, 836 – 838
  • Built as SW5: 840 – 849

W6/SW6[edit]

W6 983 on route 30 in Victoria Parade in October 2004

The SW6-class were introduced in 1939 and were followed by the W6-class which were produced between 1951 and 1955. One hundred and fifty were built in total, At their introduction, W6-class trams were popular with passengers and crew alike for being fast, smooth and comfortable. The Cab controls are the same as of other W-class trams. The first 40 had flip-over wooden seats in the end saloons, the remainder having upholstered bus seats. All had wooden seats in the centre saloon until the 1970s when the entire class was refurbished with upholstered seats throughout.

W6-class trams initially begun as a sub group of the SW6-class trams, but later became their own class. The W6 differed from the SW6 in having quieter wheels and gears plus additional soundproofing.

As of December 2013, 26 remain available for service with Yarra Trams plus another 21 stored operational in "ready reserve"..[28][29] Two of the trams are in the hands of preservation groups, one of which is used as a café tram in Bendigo. Three SW6-class trams also operate on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant service.

W7[edit]

Forty W7-class trams were built in 1955/56 for operation on new Bourke Street routes (routes 86 and 96).[30][31] Originally 70 were ordered but the number was cut to 40 following a change of government at the 1955 state election. They were very similar to the preceding W6 class, but with upholstered seats throughout.[29] As of December 2013, 9 remain in service with Yarra Trams with another 4 stored operational in "ready reserve".

W8[edit]

SW6 922 was partly modernised at Preston Workshops in 1993. It was to be a prototype for rebuilding the remaining SW6 fleet with air conditioning, roller bearings, modern head and tail lights, fluorescent interior lighting, dot matrix destination display and pantograph using many of the same components as used in the A2 and B2 class trams. It was designated the W8 class and renumbered 1101. The rebuild radically altered the appearance of the tram and the National Trust ordered the conversion be suspended before completion.[26]:89

Two of the SW6 class - 946 and 959 - were subsequently modernised in 2012 and 2013 and designated the W8 class. The upgrades include improved traction motors, suspension and braking, improved crashworthiness and LED lighting, while retaining the general appearance of the original SW6.[32] Both are in service with Yarra Trams.

List of preserved W class trams[edit]

W class trams preserved in Australia and New Zealand
Class Number Location Comments
W 220 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria Under restoration to original condition
W 380 Hawthorn depot Part of the Melbourne historic tram fleet, was reconverted from a W2-series tram in 1988 at Preston Workshops.[33]
W1 421 Bendigo Tramway Rebuilt back from W2, renumbered Bendigo 31[34]
W1 427 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria Reconverted from a W2-series tram in 1988 at Preston Workshops courtesy ofa Victorian Government grant to celebrate 100 years of trams in Melbourne[35]
W1 431 Hawthorn depot Part of the Melbourne historic tram fleet, was reconverted from a W2-series tram in 1988 at Preston Workshops[36]
W1 432 Sydney Tramway Museum [35]
W2 244 Ferrymead Heritage Park Owned by the Heritage Tramway Trust, the commercial arm of the Tramway Historical Society at Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, currently in storage at Ferrymead Park due to the closure of the Christchurch Tramway, but will return to service in late 2013.
W2 249 Sydney Tramway Museum In a livery for a proposed Canberra system[37]
W2 294 Australian Electric Tram Museum, Adelaide [38]
W2 321 Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand
W2 323 Tramway Society of Victoria [35]
W2 325 Hawthorn depot Has been converted to a driver training tram, thus is permanently immobile and housed at Hawthorn tram depot[39]
W2 329 Perth Electric Tramway Society In operational condition[40]
W2 354 Australian Electric Tram Museum, Adelaide [38]
W2 357 Melbourne Tramcar Preservation Association [41]
W2 368 Perth Electric Tramway Society In need of restoration[40]
W2 370 Sydney Tramway Museum [38]
W2 392 Sydney Tramway Museum [38]
W2 393 Perth Electric Tramway Society In operational condition[40]
W2 407 Melbourne Tramcar Preservation Association [42]
W2 432 Christchurch, New Zealand Restored as a restaurant tram for use on the Christchurch Tramway but stored in the city tram barn since the 22 February 2011 earthquake. Planned to return to service in late 2013.
W2 441 Perth Electric Tramway Society On loan from Bendigo Tramway and in operational condition[40][43]
W2 447 Sydney Tramway Museum [35]
W2 456 Bendigo Tramway In storage[43]
W2 470 Bendigo Trust [35]
W2 471 Sydney Tramway Museum [35]
W2 509 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria
W2 510 Hawthorn depot Part of the Melbourne historic tram fleet[44]
W2 522 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
W2 577 Sydney Tramway Museum [35]
W2 600 Public Transport Corporation heritage fleet [35]
W2 643 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
W2 646 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
SW2 275 Bendigo Tramway Renumbered Bendigo 33[34]
SW2 426 Perth Electric Tramway Society In operational condition[40]
SW2 436 Masterton, New Zealand Privately owned, was converted from a W1-class tram to SW2-class in 1938
SW2 644 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria
W3 661 Ballarat Tramway Museum [45] In operational condition
W3 663 Melbourne Tramcar Preservation Association [25]
W3 667 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
W3 668 Sydney Tramway Museum [35]
W4 670 Melbourne Tramcar Preservation Association [46]
W4 671 Ballarat Tramway Museum [47] In operational condition
W3 673 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
W4 674 Perth Electric Tramway Society In operational condition[40]
W5 739 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
W5 759 Public Transport Corporation heritage fleet [35]
W5 762 Sydney Tramway Museum [35]
W5 766 Perth Electric Tramway Society In need of restoration[40]
W5 774 Hawthorn depot [48]
W5 782 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
W5 792 Sydney Tramway Museum [35]
W5 795 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
W5 821 Public Transport Corporation heritage fleet [35]
SW5 808 Bendigo Tramway [34]
SW5 840 Public Transport Corporation heritage fleet [35]
SW5 849 Melbourne Tramcar Preservation Association [49]
W6 976 Bendigo Tramway Restaurant tram[34]
W6 996 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
SW6 850 Public Transport Corporation heritage fleet [35]
SW6 880 Bendigo Tramway [34]
SW6 887 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
SW6 900 Public Transport Corporation heritage fleet [35]
SW6 902 Tramway Society of Victoria [35]
SW6 918 Bendigo Tramway Renumbered Bendigo 34[34]
W7 1001 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria [35]
W7 1013 Australian Electric Traction Association Museum, St Kilda In operational condition
W7 1017 Perth Electric Tramway Society In operational condition[40]
W7 1040 Hawthorn depot Last W class built[50]
W class trams operating in America
Class Number Location Comments
W2 234 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley[51]
W2 353 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley, renumbered 1978[51]
W2 417 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley[51]
W2 626 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley, renumbered 452, ex-New Orleans[51]
SW2 478 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley, renumbered 454, ex-New Orleans[51]
W2 331 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley, renumbered 455, ex-New Orleans[51]
W2 539 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley[51]
W2 540 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley[51]
W2 545 Memphis, TN Used in regular service on MATA Trolley[51]
W2 553 Memphis, TN Destroyed by fire on 7 April 2014 [52]
W2 369 Dallas, TX Operates along McKinney Avenue M-Line, nicknamed Matilda[53]
W2 496 San Francisco, CA Used in regular service on F Market & Wharves line[54]
SW6 916 San Francisco, CA Used in regular service on F Market & Wharves line[55]
W5 756 Savannah, GA Used on the River Street Streetcar, electric motors are powered by a generator and battery hybrid drive[56]
W2 531 San Jose, CA Operates on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority historic trolley line[57][58]
W2 601 Chisholm, MN Used at the Minnesota Discovery Center[59][60]
W2 606 Chisholm, MN Used at the Minnesota Discovery Center [59][60]
W2 648 Rio Vista, CA Preserved in operational condition at Western Railway Museum[61]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]