Tram No. 135 and its century of travelling the tracks
Author: Christen McAlpine
Editor: Megan Hutching
Tram No. 135 is a Wellington tram, built in 1921, and operated throughout Wellington until 1957. This type of tram was the most common of the Wellington tram fleet and were constructed in the local Kilbirnie tramway workshops. As with all Wellington trams, No. 135 operated on the narrower 4-foot gauge and had the new technology of air brakes fitted at manufacture.
This design of tram was known as a ‘double saloon’ as the tram was built with an enclosed compartment or saloon at each end and an open centre. In later years, the Double Saloons had their open centres enclosed somewhat to provide better protection from the weather, but the canvas pull-down blinds were still a feature of the centre doorways following this redesign.
The Double Saloons were all built with a centre aisle in the open centre. Following the deaths of conductors falling from the running boards while collecting fares, government regulations in 1913 stated that all tramcars in New Zealand had to have a centre aisle front to back.
The Wellington Tramway Company had formed on 21 August 1878 – and three days later, on 24 August, the Wellington tramway system began operation with steam-hauled trams. The Wellington system was the first city steam tram service in the southern hemisphere and originally ran from a terminal near the Government Buildings on Lambton Quay to a depot at the corner of Adelaide Road and King Street.
The city reintroduced horse-drawn trams in 1882 as the steam engines were widely deemed unsatisfactory — they were heavy which increased the wear and tear on the track resulting in increased maintenance costs, they were prone to derailing, and often frightened horses. The last steam-drawn tram was withdrawn from service in 1892. The financial state of the company remained in a perilous condition and after several management changes, it was purchased for a minimal price by the Wellington City Corporation in 1900.
In 1902 it was decided to electrify the system. The contract was awarded to the large engineering and contracting firm, McCartney, McElroy and Company Limited of London. The first trial electric tram run was on 8 June 1904, and the first run from Newtown to the Basin Reserve was on 30 June 1904. The implementation of the new system brought an end to the horse drawn service in August 1904. The electrified system proved popular and remained in service until 1964.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, however, Wellington City decided to replace its trams with buses and trolleybuses. The topography of Wellington played a part in this decision – the city's streets are often steep, winding, and narrow, making the greater manoeuvrability of buses a significant asset.
The first major tram line closure came in 1949, when Wadestown closed. Over the next 15 years all the lines slowly closed until the only one remaining was the Thorndon to Newtown line.
On 2 May 1964, large crowds gathered along the remaining route to witness the last trams to run through the streets of Wellington and also the last trams in regular passenger service in any city in New Zealand. Three trams had been decorated especially for the occasion, numbers 250, 251 and 252. The trams had been driven down to a closing ceremony at Thorndon tram sheds, then, after speeches from invited dignitaries, they moved off for the final time bound for Newtown. Crowds lined the streets all along the route and the trams moved slowly in procession with a local brass band. Upon reaching the Newtown Sheds, another ceremony was held with the symbolic closing of the large shed doors for the final time. Tram 252 was the official ‘last tram’ of New Zealand.
The principle of electric transport was retained in Wellington with many of the tram routes being served by trolleybuses until 2017.
Many of the Double Saloon type of trams were manufactured, which indicates their good design during a period of high demand for public transport in New Zealand. The inclusion of modern safety features, such as airbrakes and multiple entry/exit points, made the Double Saloon tram popular with both users and operators.
Urban areas in New Zealand grew rapidly from the 1890s to the 1920s. The development of tramway lines meant that urban dwellers could live in suburbs on sections with more space than was available in the central city, yet still travel to their workplaces every day. The electrification of tramways in the first decade of the 1900s helped to foster a new wave of suburban development. Tram 135 was manufactured a decade into the establishment of an electric tram system in Wellington and represents how the city coped with the extra demand for public transport resulting from the increase in suburban dwellers.
No.135 arrived at MOTAT in 1964, shortly after the Wellington Tramway system closed and was stored on site, until restoration work began in the late 1970s. Now restored back to original open centre configuration and painted in the 1920s Wellington livery of chocolate and cream. In December this year, No.135 celebrates its 100th birthday!
Type: Mk I double saloon
In service: 1921 - 1957
Length: 39 ft
Width: 7 ft
Seating capacity: 35
Truck: Brill 69E ‘maximum traction’ bogies 4 ft gauge
Motors: 2 x GE203P @ 50 HP
Controllers: GE B35 with rheostatic electric /magnetic track braking
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