Since its introduction in 1994, the free City Circle tram service has been a must-do experience for all tourists visiting Melbourne. However this was not the first regular tourist tram service in our city.
On 16 September 1927, the first tourist tram in Melbourne commenced operation, leaving from Batman Avenue terminus for a round trip tour of the eastern and south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Two trips a day were scheduled, leaving at 10:30 am and 2:15 pm every weekday. The standard adult fare was one shilling.
The service proved to be an immediate success. In the first nine months of operation the tourist tram attracted nearly 25,000 patrons. At times the demand was so great that up to four tramcars were required to carry the load. However, experience showed that the cool and damp Melbourne winter weather reduced passenger numbers. As a result, the service was suspended from mid-June until spring weather returned at the beginning of September. This would be the standard operational pattern for the tourist tram service.
The new prototype Y class tram number 469 was permanently allocated to the service from its beginning, operating from its home depot at Hawthorn. In order to improve the level of passenger comfort, the original wooden seats in this tram were upgraded to rattan in 1929.
The lack of a connection between Swanston Street and Batman Avenue led to a large amount of dead-running when returning to Hawthorn Depot, increasing operating costs of the tourist service substantially. Therefore, in 1929 a single track connecting curve was installed between the Batman Avenue terminus and Swanston Street. It was intended that the curve would only be used by the tourist tram, special charters running to Wattle Park, and car transfers between depots.
The introduction of the tourist tram had some benefits not just financial. Firstly, it allowed higher revenue utilisation of a small number of trams during daytime off-peak hours, when otherwise they would be idling in the depot. In combination with the introduction of the premium tourist fare , the operation of the tourist tram service slightly improved the capital efficiency of the M&MTB.
Secondly, the tourist tram allowed the M&MTB to test the new Y class design in service. At the time of introduction of the service, there was significant potential for the Melbourne W class design to be superseded by trams of the Peter Witt-derived Y class layout.
Finally, rostering of traffic staff in split shifts was always a cause for friction between the M&MTB and its staff. The introduction of the tourist tram service reduced the number of weekday split shifts that were required to operate the Hawthorn Depot roster, providing a small boost in staff morale.
While the onset of the 1930s Great Depression reduced patronage of the tourist tram service, it continued to operate between September and mid-June each year, until the introduction of all-night services in 1936, when Y 469 was reallocated to Camberwell Depot along with the four subsequent Y1 class trams.
It is no longer possible to fully re-trace the original route by tram. One of the most attractive parts of the route the line along the sweeping curves of Batman Avenue on the north bank of the Yarra River were lost when the route 70 tracks were diverted in 1996 behind the Tennis Centre and across the City Link bridge over the rail yards into Flinders Street. Wellington Street in St Kilda also no longer has tram tracks, as they were moved into the concrete canyon of Dandenong Road as part of the St Kilda Junction project in the late 1960s. Finally, the connecting curves from Burke Road into Whitehorse Road and Glenferrie Road into Cotham Road have also disappeared, together with the north-west curves connecting Wattletree Road with Glenferrie Road, removing the ability to travel around one of the loops of the tourist tram route without changing cars.
The character of what is now the inner suburbs of Melbourne has changed so much that the few still living who may have experienced the original tourist tram service in their childhood could hardly recognise the suburbs it once passed through.
If you wish to retrace the 1927 tourist tram route using normal tram services, the following directions will enable you to cover all of the trackage that remains of the original service:
Note that the above directions were correct as at May 2014.
The Age (1927), Special
City Tram Tour, 17 September 1929
The Argus (1935), Tramway Tours, 21 September 1935
The Argus (1928), Tourist Tram Service, 25 June 1928
The Argus (1928), Tourist Trams, 10 February 1928
The Argus (1929), New Tramway Curve, 2 November 1929
Cameron, A. (1930), Be Proud of Our Tramways, The Argus, 5 April 1930
Cross, N. et al (1993), Destination City, Transit Australia Publishing
M&MTB (1936), Annual Report, Sands & MacDougall Pty Ltd