#Trams: a short pictorial study by State Records #NSW

State Records NSW has a remarkable collection that’s been extensively digitised.
Since one of the themes of this blog is trams, or light rail as the rather over engineered contemporary version of a Sydney tram is called, I’ve planned a series of posts on trams.

Trams carrying race day crowds at Randwick Racecourse

Reproduction rights: State Records NSW

Globally trams are on the way back, actually they were always there. It was only the short sighted few who abandoned them in favour of the internal combustion engine.

Myopic politicians
Here in New South Wales myopic politicians systematically dismantled and sold off the world’s largest urban tramway system. They were thorough in their work, what infrastructure they couldn’t grub-out they buried under bitumen or allowed fall into neglect.

Where dedicated tramway land remained they either alienated or filled it in with ‘development’. Tramways infrastructure has all but disappeared from Sydney, except for those with a discerning urban eye. Rebuilding tramway networks presents a difficult task. Nowhere is the nature of the task more evident than in the suburb of Randwick. Yesterday this was driven home to me as I stood and looked at what was once a broad avenue of dedicated tramway running from Peter’s Corner (Randwick Junction) to Centennial Park.

This was the intersection of Belmore Rd/Cook St and Alison Rd. Between Coogee Beach and Flinders St Belmore was one of the few places where trams actuially travelled on a roadway. Elsewhere they remained on dedicated tramway en route from Coogee to the City.

Now as I gazed diagonally across the intersection towards Cook St I was reminded of just how much money politicians made for their respective levels of government, selling off swathes of dedicated tramway land for high density residential development.

The broad avenue of tramway descended past some fine old late Victorian mansions, some replete with classical statuary, before swinging past the vast Randwick tramways workshop.

Currently Sydney City Council is investigating the options for restoring some trams from the 1950s and 1960s, lying vandalised and neglected in what remains of the old Rozelle Tram Depot.

The six trams ferried Sydney commuters in the 1950s and 60s, and include the last tram ever to run on the Sydney Tramways network. They are at great risk of deteriorating beyond repair.

For more comment on trams see High Riser, a blog by Andrew, from Melbourne

Photo collection
The photo archives of State records NSW contain many fine images of trams from this area. Here are just a few.

Dr John Gerofi
In a later blog I’ll be interviewing Sydney Engineer Dr John Gerofi who has been a life long campaigner for trams and was instrumental in the campaign to see the construction of the Central to Lilyfield line.

6 thoughts on “#Trams: a short pictorial study by State Records #NSW

  1. I was a tram conductor in Sydney. I well remember rattleing along Anzac Parade in my wood pannelled drawing room.
    Public transport, at least in Sydney, is a way of ripping off the blue collar workers out west for the benefit of the wealthy. Most of the wealthiest suburbs have heavily subsidised public transport. Most poore suburbs have none.


  2. Rodney, that’s probably somewhat of an over statement. Yes, people who live further from the centre don’t have comprehensive access to such public transport as exists and have a high degree of reliance on cars. ABS Data shows that car ownership in the western Sydney Region in 2006 compared to the Sydney Statistical Division shows that 80.1% of the households owned at least one car, while 11.5% did not, compared with 78.1% and 12.6% respectively in the Sydney Statistical Division.

    Your comments aren’t an over statement if applied to trams. Sadly they’re now a luxury in Sydney. In Melbourne trams run out well into the suburbs


    1. Sorry Russell but your stats do not tell us much. Rich people in rich suburbs often own cars because they can. Poor people in poor suburbs often own cars because they must, just to get to work. If they have a family they often need 2 cars.
      There are no proposals to provide public transport to most poor suburbs. There are incessant demands from rich people to have more subsidised public transport in rich suburbs.
      Public transport should not be subsidised though poorer users should be. This should not include all these affluent Whinging Seniors Card Bludgers.

      Public transport is neither green nor economic except where population density is high. Note how many public transport advocates are opposed to urban consolidation.

      The practical effect of the Public Transport Lobby proposals is generous
      subsidies for Barristers and advertising executives and the like paid for by higher taxes on blue collar workers and other much poorer people.

      It is true that trams serviced both poor and rich suburbs alike but that was a long time ago.


      1. Yes, the stats are brief but any superficial glance at allied ABS statistics will show you that car ownership in the areas closer to the CBD is lower.

        While many lower income households are near the periphery, in Sydney the north/south harbour divide also separates rich from poor, employed from unemployed, highly educated from less well educated. I suggest you download the census maps from the 2006 census and caste your eyes over them.


        If you do this you’ll see where the lower income earners are located. For example, there’s a concentration of lower income earning migrants from SE Asia and E Asia along railway lines where cheaper higher density apartments from the 1920s through to the 1970s are quite common. Then look more generally at the distribution of rich and poor in Sydney.

        Space doesn’t permit a comprehensive review but for a more thorough coverage of distribution of low income households, check out that Social Atlas. When you’ve done this compare it with some maps of Sydney’s public transport system, say buses and trains, and see for yourself.

        Don’t overlook the extensive provision of public transport to lower income areas.

        You throw in a few red herrings re urban consolidation and barristers. The base line is that urban consolidation is an inevitability and public transport will grow along with it as densities do increase. The poor will struggle to be located close to good public transport links and nodes, that’s basic land rent theory for which we owe much to Ricardo and Von Thünen (see Economic Theory and Land prices in Land Use Modelling for a brief account of their theories, in a much wider discussion), but it’s certainly not an argument for abandoning the development of public transport. Solutions could be found in such measures as subsidising low income earners’ housing or access to public transport.

        On whether or not public transport is green, well that’s another discussion entirely. Certainly the free market provision of public transport in places like Jakarta where thousands of poorly tuned diesel mini-buses roam around the city, belching clouds of black smoke, would suggest that public transport is anything but green. Sydney’s train system on the other hand is at least powered by coal burning power stations, located outside major urban areas for the most part, that have some semblance of environmental controls. We even have some hybrid buses, and the vast majority of taxis in NSW rely on LPG to fuel their combined journeys which amount to more than 1 billion kilometres per year, but there’s a long way to go. In short I agree, public transport isn’t green just because it’s public.


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