Victorian Railways Luxury Car No 53

No 53 is an important in Melbourne’s tram history, as it is an example of the last type of tram that was built for the Victorian Railways broad gauge line that ran between St Kilda Railway Station and Brighton Beach. Furthermore, it is one of only two trams that operated on both the broad gauge Victorian Railways line and the standard gauge M&MTB tramway system. Finally, it is a concrete example of cooperation between the M&MTB and the Victorian Railways, two public transport organisations that were usually seen as competitors.

This tramcar was one of an order of three built by the Victorian Railways (VR) Newport Workshops for the broad gauge Brighton Beach line in 1941, as part of a rehabilitation program for this tramway. Many of the electrical components were sourced from spare parts acquired by VR twenty years earlier for the construction of the standard VR drop centre bogie tramcars, the order of which was cut short by four tramcars.

VR53 outside Elwood Depot. Photograph courtesy Public Record Office Victoria. VR No 53 outside Elwood Depot, before closure of the St Kilda-Brighton Beach line.
Photograph courtesy Public Record Office Victoria.

The design was based on the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB) SW6 class [1] design then under construction, but was somewhat shorter and had significantly narrower sliding doors and two piece driver’s windscreens. The tramcars also made use of many components common with the Tait suburban carriages being built concurrently at Newport. The design was a significant advance on the passenger comfort available with the rest of the VR tramcar fleet.

On closure of the Brighton Beach line in 1959, this tramcar along with its two sister cars, Nos. 52 and 54, were sold to the M&MTB. These three tramcars were notable for being the only passenger tramcars acquired and operated by the M&MTB from another operator after its initial formation in the early 1920s. The M&MTB replaced the broad gauge Brill 77E trucks with standard gauge No 15 trucks, allowing No 53 to enter service in July 1960. It was allocated to Essendon Depot and mostly used on the Footscray to Moonee Ponds line. These cars were unpopular with drivers due to the central windshield division obscuring the driver’s forward vision, and the narrow doorways meant that passenger loading and unloading were slow.

In 1973 this tramcar was fitted with standard front and rear marker lights, and the drop centre was modified with wider sliding doors, improving the passenger loading speed. Three years later it was renumbered to 700, to avoid duplication with the Z1 class cars then entering service.

It was withdrawn from service in September 1980 and donated to the Australian Railway Historical Society (ARHS), being placed on display in its railway museum at North Williamstown. In 2006 it was restored to operating condition in Victorian Railways livery for the centenary of electric tramways in Melbourne, participating in centenary celebrations at Essendon Depot and Docklands.

In 2008 No 53 was placed on long term loan by the ARHS for display as part of the collection of the Melbourne Tram Museum @ Hawthorn Depot.

Technical details

Motors: 4 x 40hp (GE 247AX2)
Controller: GE K35GR2
Truck: Brill 77E (as built for VR), M&MTB No 15 (for M&MTB service)
Passengers: 42 (seated), 110 (standing)
Weight: 17.8 tons
Length: 45 feet 0 inches
Width: 9 feet 0 inches

Bibliography

Cross, N., Budd, D., and Wilson, R. (1993) Destination City (Fifth Edition), Transit Australia Publishing

Cross, N., Henderson, R. and Kings, K. (1981) Destination City (Fourth Edition), Australian Electric Traction Association

Harrigan, L. J. (1962) Victorian Railways to ’62, Victorian Railways

Marshall-Wood, L. (1966) The Brighton Electric Line, Traction Publications

Footnote

[1] The M&MTB lent a complete set of SW6 class plans and drawings to the Victorian Railways to assist with the design of the luxury cars. In essence, the VR luxury cars could be considered as yet another variation of the M&MTB W class design.