Yarra Trams Z1 Class No 81 ‘Karachi W11’

Z1 class tram number 81 arrived at the Melbourne Tram Museum early on the morning of 19 June 2015. This historically important tram was placed into the museum collection by Yarra Trams and VicTrack, for the enjoyment and education of the people of Melbourne and Victoria.

It was nominated for preservation in our museum for four reasons:

  • As a Z1 class tram, it represents the renewal of investment in Melbourne’s tramway system from 1975 onwards, ending two decades of neglect by the State Government.
  • Z1 81 signals the beginning of ongoing Federal intervention in the peacetime development of Australia’s urban infrastructure, which had previously been an entirely State government function. The Z class tram program was one of the enduring fruits of this fundamental shift in political responsibilities.
  • It is the first Z1 class tram to be built. The previous 80 trams of the Z class order were completed to a different standard, and upgraded later to the Z1 design.
  • As ‘Karachi W11’, this tram is part of a long history of decorated trams in Melbourne.

A final fling

In early 2006, after 28 years carrying people to work, school and play, tram Z1 81 was on the verge of retirement. It needed a major overhaul to continue travelling the streets of Melbourne for another decade or so of service, but the cost of repairing the old tram was too high.

The final journey of Z1 81 was expected to be a one-way trip to the scrapyard. Newer, more modern trams would replace it in service.

However, a different fate was in store for the ageing tram.

As part of the cultural festival associated with the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, Global Art Projects brought five Pakistani artisans [1] to Melbourne for a two-week period, to decorate Z1 81 in the same extravagant style as the mini-buses used on the W11 route in Karachi. The artistic project was run under the direction of local artist Mick Douglas. Z1 81 was adorned with fluorescent hand-cut sticker collage, stainless steel panelling, tassels and flashing lights. The message ‘Love is Life’ was emblazoned on its sides in both English and Urdu.

Z1 81 as 'Karachi W11' at Docklands on 16 March 2006. Photograph courtesy Ian Green.  
Z1 81 in all its glory as ‘Karachi W11’ at Docklands on 16 March 2006, while it was running on the City Circle during the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Photograph courtesy Ian Green.

In its new identity as ‘Karachi W11’, Z1 81 was used on Melbourne’s City Circle route for the duration of the Commonwealth Games, over the period 14-26 March 2006. The cultural experience for tram passengers was intensified by Bhangra and Pakistani music playing in the background. Special event conductors handed out souvenir tickets featuring the imagery and Urdu poetry displays typical of public transport tickets in Karachi.

After the end of the Games, Z1 81 was placed into storage, but was returned to limited service on the City Circle route on Friday evenings, from 3 November 2006 until 23 March 2007, as part of the City of Melbourne Living Arts program. Performances were conducted on its journey by artists, musicians and dancers during the sponsored program.

On completion of the season, Z1 81 was returned to storage, where it remained until it was placed into the collection of the Melbourne Tram Museum on 19 June 2015.

Politics and the origins of the Z class tram

With the ascent to power of Henry Bolte as Premier of Victoria in 1955 the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB) was starved of capital funding. No new trams were built by the M&MTB over the 17 years from 1956 until 1973, even though the majority of Melbourne’s tram fleet dated from the 1920s. Similarly, there was no extension to the tram network between 1956 and 1973, as State funding over this period was directed to road projects.

With Bolte’s retirement and replacement as Premier by Rupert Hamer in 1972 the political landscape changed. To increase its electoral appeal, the State Government invested heavily in public transport rather than continuing its previous focus on road construction. Among other initiatives, the Government decided to acquire 100 modern trams to replace the obsolete W2 class trams. The new vehicles were to be known as the Z class and, to signal the beginning of a new era for Melbourne’s trams, would be numbered from 1 to 100.

However the State Government could not fund the acquisition of the new tramcars by itself. In 1973 the Federal Whitlam Labor Government established the Urban Public Transport Assistance Scheme to match State funds for public transport improvement projects. Under this program, it would fund two-thirds of the cost of the Z class program.

After the dismissal of the Whitlam Government and its replacement by the Fraser Liberal/National Government, the federal funding of the Z class construction program was withdrawn.

The State Government maintained its commitment to the delivery of new trams, but the removal of federal funding meant that the planned delivery rate of fifty trams per year was reduced to less than twenty trams per year after the delivery of Z 39.

Z1 81 in orange livery in Bourke Street on 21 April 1980. Photograph courtesy Trevor Triplow Z1 81 in orange livery at the bottom end of Bourke Street on 21 April 1980, with Z1 94 and Z3 128 in the background.
Photograph courtesy Trevor Triplow.

Teething problems

Commonwealth Engineering was responsible for the construction of the Z class, basing the body design on the prototype tram PCC 1041. This was the first time since the 1920s that the M&MTB had contracted out construction of trams, although final fit-out of the new tramcars was carried out at the M&MTB’'s Preston Workshops.

After a short period of demonstration runs in June 1975, the Z class cars were dedicated to Bourke Street routes. The classic green and cream livery of the W class trams was replaced by a bold new orange colour scheme [2]. This change signalled the radically different boarding and exiting arrangements of the Z class, which followed the Peter Witt design that had originated in Cleveland in 1915. This basic body pattern was previously used in Melbourne on the Y and Y1 class trams.

Passengers boarded through the front doors, purchasing tickets from a conductor seated in a raised console, before proceeding down the tram to take a seat. Exiting the vehicle required passengers to use the central doors – leaving by the front doors was strongly discouraged. One feature of the Z class cars that was highly appreciated by passengers during Melbourne winters was the introduction of heating – although on 40-plus degree summer days when the heaters could not be turned off the reaction was not so positive.

Like PCC 1041, the Z class was based on the M28 tram design from Göteborg, Sweden. Rather than using the obsolescent PCC running gear of the prototype car, Commonwealth Engineering contracted ASEA to supply the same running gear as in the Göteborg cars.

It soon became apparent that the ride quality of the new Z class cars was inferior to that of Melbourne’s existing W class fleet. The Göteborg tramway system largely consisted of open ballasted track, while the track in Melbourne was primarily set in concrete, which is much more rigid. This difference led to an unacceptable degree of vibration in the Z class trams, caused by excessive stiffness in the M28 bogie design.

Furthermore, the Hägglund hydraulic braking system fitted to the Z class had problems during the hot weather experienced in Melbourne’s summers, often jamming on 40 degree plus days, leaving the tram unable to move. A repair crew would have to be despatched to wind the brakes off, and tow the defective tram back to the depot with another tram or the R10 emergency truck [3].

The Z class design was revised for the final twenty cars of the order, improving the bogie design with a secondary suspension consisting of two rubber elements. The braking system was also redesigned to cope with Melbourne’s hot summers. Trams built to the modified design were classified as Z1 class trams – the first of which was number 81.

As the modifications were progressively applied to the earlier Z class cars, they were reclassified into the Z1 class. The Z class order was extended by a further fifteen trams (101-115) in 1978. These trams were built with minor variations to the Z1 class design, and hence were classified as Z2 class.

Z1 81 in service

The first of the Z1 class trams – number 81 – entered service [4] on 18 October 1977, initially running on the Bourke Street routes out of Preston Depot. It would later be assigned to Camberwell Depot, where it had the reputation amongst drivers of being the fastest tram on the system. While it was at Camberwell, Z1 81 was used to trial the use of flashing hazard lights to alert road traffic that the doors were open and passengers alighting.

Number 81 was repainted in the Olympic green and yellow livery of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in July 1984, as part of the rebranding of Melbourne’s trams. It would remain in this colour scheme until 2006.

In preparation for the privatisation of Melbourne’s tramway system by the Kennett State Government, Z1 81 was assigned to Swanston Trams in October 1997. From this time until 2006 it was used primarily on the Swanston Street routes.

Like all other Melbourne trams then in service, Z1 81 was upgraded in the first half of 1998 to operate the Metcard ticketing system and run with one-man crews. This involved removing the conductor’s consoles, reducing the number of seats from 48 to 44, and installing a Metcard ticketing machine and ticket validators.

With the conversion of all Melbourne trams to pantograph operation, the trolley poles and receivers were removed from Z1 81 in April 1999. This was implemented as an improvement necessary to ensure ongoing safe operation of trams by one-man crews.

Four months later, ownership of Z1 81 would pass to National Express, the successful bidder for the Swanston Trams franchise. The company would later rebrand itself as M>Tram, but Z1 81 would not receive an image update. In December 2002 National Express abandoned its franchise. Z1 81 returned to government operation under the Public Transport Corporation, until an agreement was made with Yarra Trams to take over operation of the former M>Tram routes in April 2004.

Z1 81 would continue to run until early 2006, when it was withdrawn for decoration and special service on the City Circle during the Commonwealth Games.

Z1 81 in Met green and yellow colours in Swanston Street, 10 November 2005. Photograph courtesy Mal Rowe. A very tired looking Z1 81 wearing faded Met green and yellow colours in its last months of operation, photographed in Swanston Street on 10 November 2005.
Photograph courtesy Mal Rowe.

Technical details

Motors: 4 x 57 kW (ASEA LJB 23/2)
Controller: ASEA Tramiac
Trucks: ASEA/GS Type M28
Seats: 48 (as built), 44 (as modified)
Crush load: 150
Weight: 19.0 tonnes
Length: 16.60m
Width: 2.67m


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

Dunn, J. (2013), Comeng 3: A History of Commonwealth Engineering Volume 3, Rosenburg Publishing

Global Art Projects (2006), W11: Karachi to Melbourne

Jones, R. (2008), Fares Please! An economic history of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board, Melbourne Tram Museum

Jones, R. (2012), Fare enough: A systems view of ticketing and fare evasion on Melbourne’s trams, from bell-punch to myki, Melbourne Tram Museum

Ohlsen, S. (2005), My favorite 10 trams, Trams Down Under Archive

Razer, H. (2006), Vehicle Decoration – the Karachi Tram Project, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Whitlam Institute (2014), Whitlam Government Achievements – Cities, University of Western Sydney

Wilson, R., and Budd, D. (2014), Destination Waterfront City, Transit Australia Publishing


[1] The Pakistani vehicle decorators from the Karachi W11 bus company were Nusrat Iqbal, Muhammed Arshad, Muhammad Nadeem, Safdar Ali and Wajid Ali Arain.

[2] The official description of the original Z class colour scheme is Marigold (orange) with roofs of Oriental Gold, while the areas surrounding the windows was painted in String (off-white). The skirts, trucks and bumpers were painted in Cocoa Brown. The Z class livery was notable for the omission of the M&MTB logo, which was a fixture on every tram painted in the classic green and cream livery synonymous with the W class trams of the M&MTB.

[3] R10 refers to the radio call sign given to the heavy tram recovery vehicle, which is used to tow or push defective trams. These call signs are assigned to vehicles used to support the operations of trams, and have been used since the first introduction of radio control for Civil Branch and Traffic Branch crews in M&MTB days. Other call signs include:

  • R6 – principal overhead tower truck
  • R25 – light tram breakdown truck.

[4] During its 28-year service career, Z1 81 was run on Melbourne’s tramway system by eight different operators:

  • Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (1978-1983)
  • Metropolitan Transit Authority (1983-1989)
  • Public Transport Corporation (1989-1997)
  • Swanston Trams (1997-1999)
  • Swanston Trams (National Express) (1999-2001)
  • M>Tram (National Express) (2001-2002)
  • M>Tram (Public Transport Corporation) (2002-2004)
  • Yarra Trams (2004-2007).