W-class trams

I love W-class trams. They truly are an icon of the city. In my youth I fondly remember watching the road ahead from the seat just behind (and to the left) of the driver, as we rolled up and down the hills on Balaclava Road. Or hot summers in the seat next to the (open) door, the cool breeze on my face — preferably wooden seats, as the vinyl ones got horribly sweaty.

Or the tiny pleasure (now impossible) of stepping out of the door, onto the running board, and onto the street as the tram was still slowing to a stop.

But a number of questions spring to mind following the Liberals’ pledge to keep and upgrade more W-class trams for regular route service.

What about accessibility? So far there seems to be no mention of this. It’s not unsurmountable — some US cities have high-level platforms that work with heritage W-class trams, though it’s unclear how this would work with low-floor trams on the same route. Something has to be done to meet Disability Discrimination Act requirements. Level boarding also helps others, including parents with prams, and speeds up boarding generally.

Will they manage to lift the 35 kmh speed limit? If not, it’s going to result in slower trips, and quite possibly worsened traffic congestion. Sure, many inner-city streets are slow anyway due to the amount of traffic, but part of keeping trams to time is having good acceleration and being able to reach something approaching the speed limit on those streets (since traffic tends to bank up behind trams; less so in front of them).

Having these trams only outside peak effectively means the whole fleet will need to be much bigger than otherwise required. What are the implications for operations (during swap times; complicated) and depot space? The latter is becoming a problem, and in fact the latest government funding for new trams includes a lot of money for expanded depot capacity.

Capacity will also be an issue on some routes; a W has more seats than a Citadis or 3-section Combino tram, but holds a lot less people because it has less standing room. Steps rather than level boarding is also likely to result in longer boarding times, further slowing down those routes.

Air conditioning always comes up as a topic for discussion on older vehicles, especially as we approach summer. I suspect they are simply not capable of being upgraded for it.

Finally, the pledge is for just $8 million of funding. There’s about 200 trams in Newport Workshops; it’s hard to see that $8 million is going to go very far at all.

So there’s a lot of unanswered questions.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

13 replies on “W-class trams”

You’ve raised a lot of good questions, and although I haven’t been on the restaurant trams myself I can’t see why an air-conditioner couldn’t be fitted. To make them look aesthetically pleasing might be a more difficult issue, but surely if you can cut a hole in the roof you can attach some kind of aircon. (Although judging from a story mum told me from her building days of a steel girder falling about 30 stories from the Melbourne Central tower construction site and landing on top of a W-Class whilst barely dinting it, the roofs might be quite strong!)

I’m quite torn about the issue of what to do with the W-classes, but I think a dedicated tourist route as is being proposed by a few different interested parties is probably the best thing that could be done. The expenses might be high, but I’m sure maintaining the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera house isn’t exactly being paid for with pocket change

And for god sakes repaint the burgundy ones green and gold!

The trams have been sitting, rotting, in the Newport Workshops for years while the Railway Historic society have been begging for them to be shifted elsewhere as the historic trains are rotting in the open air.
We managed without air-con by opening the windows, worked on both train and tram.
Melb streets were designed for single (sometimes double) lanes of horse-drawn vehicles; get rid of cars in the CBD (especially in the laneways), this will encourage more walking/public transport use, cut down on the air pollution and speed up the (increased number of) trams.
Whole depts/workshops have disappeared along with the knowledge and resources of repairing these trams and trains – most of the stored W class have been cannibalised for parts to keep the current ones running but they’re coming up short with parts now as they aint being manufactured any more.
As for the trams being non-disabled friendly – again, the V/Line bus coaches are contravening the Disability Act but there’s nothing being done to fix that situation, either.
Build a high/low tramstop, catering for both low floor and high floored heritage trams – tram drivers are pretty clever possums, they can maneuver their steeds into position.

@Julian, I don’t think the roofs are generally very strong. I seem to recall problems fitting the pantographs onto them, for instance, until they found a lightweight design.

@Jayne, admittedly the issue with lack of aircon only really becomes a concern on very hot days. But open windows only do so much; and PT has to compete against car travel. Yeah I suspect they could come up with a platform solution (so at least one door was adjacent to a high platform), though in four-lane roads there’s questions over how it would work.

It probably wouldn’t be too hard to add air conditioning these trams with some sort of split system AC similiar to the ones common in homes and bussinesses. The indoor unit or several units could be suspended from the ceiling. The real problem will be keeping the windows shut. If people are hot they will open a window if they think that the AC is not effective enough or if the air is stuffy and this would cause any refrigerative system to work poorly. Notice that the trams that have AC installed also have windows that do not open for this reason. A tram driver could not be expected to be continually closing windows and scolding passengers to keep a tram cool. Perhaps evaporative cooling might be better suited to these trams as it needs some windows to be open to work effectively and use less energy too. A water tank and pump would be needed to supply them with water. An inflatable fabric duct (such as the ones used in tents) could be suspended down the center of the tram’s ceiling to distribute cool air evenly to passengers. This would only require only 1 hole to be made in the roof and could be removed during winter to keep the historic interior as original and unmodified as possible.

The ideal is to make public transport as comfortable and accessible as possible, so while I appreciate the nostalgic aspect it’s well past time to get retire the old rattlers.

I remember in the mid-90s it was said that we had an oversupply of trams, then when the Ws were retired, we apparently had a shortage. It was the PTUA’s position to keep the W class trams running and to return more of them to service to alleviate crowding. So is the shortage of trams so far in the past now that we can run extra trams to alleviate overcrowding without the Ws? I get the feeling that’s not the case, otherwise the government wouldn’t be so desperate to keep the bumblebees and there are still reports of tram overcrowding.

The 35km/h speed limit is still an issue. It seems it was a major objective of the operator to get rid of them as an effort to ‘modernise’ the tram network, along with removing half the stops so they only remain every half-km. If that wasn’t the case, we might still have them.

It seems to me that the issue is very much like that that London had to confront with the eventual demise of the Routemaster bus.

As you (and many others here I suspect) will know), it brought the same issues of nostalgic iconism (is that a word?!) into conflict with modern expectations of passenger comfort.

In the end, a (very British!) compromise was agreed, whereby some survivors run on central sections of two popular routes (the 9 and 15). They look good, they look “right” and for those who can’t/don’t want to use them, the routes are paralleled by conventional modern buses.

In essence, this is not wholly dissimilar from the City Circle operation in Melbourne. I didn’t know of the plans to reintroduce some of the famous “mothballed” fleet but it’s evident that it throws up the same issues.

Good luck!

(I might add that one of the most enigmatic sights I saw in Melbourne, no in the whole of Australia, was W operation on Chapel Street. It just looked “right” and if such actual use of Ws for passenger *transport* must end, I’m glad I saw it!)

And yes, Julian, they really ought to be in green on the City Circle!

Following a tram ‘upgrade’ in Adelaide a few years ago, the ineffectual air conditioning system on new trams (understandably) resulted in numerous consumer complaints during a summer heatwave. The transport minister blamed consumers for wearing the wrong type of clothing in his response – an absolute howler – but I guess it deflected criticism from the main issue by giving rise to all sorts of conjecture as to what constituted a suitable tram traveller outfit! I believe the debate still continues …

Happy travels!!

I wonder if old W’s could be altenated with low-floor trams (make every 2nd tram a new one).

This would alleviate accessibility issues, and for people who prefer a cool ride, rather than nostalgia.

Only disadvantage is that it halves the frequency for the disabled.

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