Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board PCC No 1041

At the beginning of 1960, the Chairman of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board, Major-General Risson, was well aware that the average age of his passenger tramcar fleet was 27 years. As he was a thoroughly professional engineer, this fact was of great concern, as the design life of Melbourne tramcars was 30 years. This meant that theoretically 441 of his passenger fleet of 792 tramcars were already due for replacement. If no tramcars were replaced or scrapped in the next decade, then 615 of the tramcar fleet would be life-expired by 1970.

Risson was facing the inevitable result of the rapid conversion of the cable tram system to electric traction in the 1920s and 1930s. However, he had a major political problem. A conservative Liberal/Country Party coalition government had been in power in Victoria since 1955 under the premiership of Henry Bolte, and opposed further capital investment in electric tramways. In fact, the government was totally biased against tramways, overwhelmingly favouring road-based transport solutions. During its term of office, the Bolte government closed down the Geelong (1956), Ballarat (1971) and Bendigo (1972) tramway systems operated by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, as well as both tramways operated by the Victorian Railways, namely the Sandringham-Black Rock line (1956) and St Kilda-Brighton Beach line (1959).

Build dates for the M&MTB passenger tram fleet as at 1960. Source: Cross, Budd & Wilson Build dates for the M&MTB passenger tram fleet as at 1960. Note that no trams were built from 1957 to 1972.
Source: Cross, Budd & Wilson (1993).

M&MTB senior engineers made a number of fact-finding trips to Europe by during the 1960s to examine modern electric tramcar design. Risson strongly lobbied the government for capital funding to start building new tramcars, but to no avail. During 1966, in conditions of great secrecy, a wooden mock-up of a modern Peter Witt style tramcar was built in a window-less building known as the old tyre store at Preston Workshops.

The lack of capital funding and inability to replace obsolete tramcars forced Risson to spend money maintaining his aging tramcar fleet. It was not until the retirement of Sir Henry Bolte as Premier in 1972 and his replacement by Rupert Hamer that the political equation changed. Although Risson had retired from his position as Chairman of the M&MTB, he was still very much in the picture as Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Committee, overshadowing the new M&MTB Chairman, Francis Kirby.

Hamer, although he was from the same political party as Bolte, was much more focused on issues of lifestyle, the environment and public transport. The trenchant opposition against capital investment in tramcars was dissipating, so construction of the first new Melbourne tramcar since 1956 was authorised.

No 1041 was built by Preston Workshops in 1973, to a Peter Witt body design roughly based on the M28 class of Gothenburg trams. In order to minimise costs, bogies and traction equipment were recycled from the 23 year old tram PCC No 980 [1], although No 1041 was fitted with modern foot-operated controllers from Belgian manufacturer ACEC. The new car was also classified as a PCC class car, although it had a totally different appearance to its predecessor.

M&MTB PCC No 1041 at Preston Workshops, 1973. M&MTB official photograph M&MTB PCC No 1041 at Preston Workshops, 1973.
M&MTB official photograph.

However, the Peter Witt layout was viewed with suspicion by the tramways union, the Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees Association, who saw this design as a step towards one-man tram crews. This issue had resulted in the withdrawal of the five Y and Y1 class cars from passenger service ten years previously. In order to pacify the union, No 1041 was fitted with fixed raised conductor’s consoles at each end of the car, effectively to build in the need for two-man crews.

This meant that roving conductors were never used in No 1041. There was considerable public resentment over the loss of convenience due to the fixed conductor’s consoles, as well as the consequent reduction in space for seating, although it did result in a significant reduction in fare evasion by forcing intending passengers to use the front doors. The conductor was issued with a ticket issuing machine, the first use of such machines in Melbourne tramcars, conductors having previously issued flimsies from their bags.

On all M&MTB trams prior to the introduction of No 1041, the conductor was responsible for indicating to the driver that passengers had safely boarded or left the tram, by issuing the ‘two-bell’ signal using the bell cord, and for issuing the emergency ‘three-bell’ signal when required. However, No 1041 was equipped with pressure-pad operated door interlocks fitted to the doorsteps, which prevented the driver from moving the tram until the doors were safely shut. This meant that the primary responsibility for passenger safety was no longer the accountability of the conductor. Instead, passenger safety was actively engineered directly into the design of the tramcar, rather than relying on fallible human intervention.

Nonethless, this change in design philosophy was the beginning of the end for two-man crews in Melbourne, although they would persist for more than another twenty years.

To highlight the beginning of a new era in Melbourne’s tramways, No 1041 was painted in a distinctive new orange livery with matching painted signs to highlight the change in passenger boarding arrangements. In addition, unlike all previous cars, it never bore the M&MTB logo.

One new feature that was welcomed by the public was the introduction of heating, although this was not the case when it could not be turned off during a hot summer’s day.

No 1041 failed ignominiously at its public launch on 26 August 1973. Premier Rupert Hamer, who was to perform the launch, was left in an embarrassing position in front of the local media. It was pushed back to Preston Workshops by W7 1035. Despite this failure, the M&MTB received approval to purchase 100 new tramcars of the brand-new Z1 class, based on the design of No 1041, although they used totally different traction and control equipment. The new cars were built by Comeng, and entered service beginning on 5 May 1975.

Meanwhile, No 1041 was allocated to Preston Depot and used primarily on Bourke Street routes, although it saw use on demonstration runs over the entire Melbourne system. It was also prominently used in advertisements for staff recruitment, which stated that trams were here to stay.

However, the prototype nature of No 1041 meant that it was not a total engineering success. It suffered many electrical failures, and the non-standard controller meant that it was not popular with drivers. Furthermore, the brakes had not been upgraded when the bogies were transferred from No 980 to 1041, despite the newer car being almost three tonnes heavier. As a result, braking performance of 1041 was not comparable to that of the new Z1 class tramcars.

In April 1975 it was withdrawn from service to replace its existing control equipment with the ASEA-type controllers used by the Z1 class tramcars. It returned to service in October 1976 at Essendon Depot, but its general unreliability saw it used infrequently. Further modifications were made over the next three years, but they did not fix the basic problems with the tramcar, and it spent much of its life at Preston Workshops, until it was finally placed in store at Hawthorn Depot in June 1984. Subsequently, many parts were removed from it for use on Z1 class tramcars, rendering it inoperable.

PCC class tramcar No 1041 is notable for three things. The least noble distinction is that it was used less in traffic than any other tram belonging to the M&MTB. It was also the last tramcar built by the M&MTB, and as such the last tramcar built at Preston Workshops, marking the end of an era of the M&MTB as a truly vertically integrated tramway operator. Finally, it was the prototype for the new generation of tramcars and led the renaissance of the Melbourne tramway system.

No 1041 is now an exhibit in the collection of the Melbourne Tram Museum @ Hawthorn Depot. This heritage tram is owned by VicTrack on behalf of the Government and people of Victoria.

Technical details

Motors: 4 x 44 kW (GE 1220E)
Controller: ACEC (as built), ASEA (as modified)
Trucks: St Louis B3
Passengers: 48 (seated), 102 (standing)
Weight: 20.2 tonnes
Length: 16.165m
Width: 2.669m

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

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

M&MTB Annual Reports (1960-75)

Footnote

[1] PCC 980 was withdrawn from traffic in 1972. The body has been preserved by the Tramway Museum Society of Victoria.