North Melbourne Electric Tramway & Lighting Company No 13

North Melbourne Electric Tramway & Lighting Company (NMETL) No 13 is the oldest surviving electric tramcar in Melbourne, and is also one of the very few surviving tramcars in Australia that were manufactured in the United States and assembled from a kit in Australia.

This tramcar was a standard product of the prominent tramcar manufacturer J.G. Brill Company of Philadelphia. It was imported in kit form from the United States in 1906 for the NMETL as one of an order of five cars. The kit was assembled by Adelaide car builder Duncan & Fraser, the completed tram being given car No 13 by the NMETL on its entry to service at Essendon Depot. When the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB) in 1922 took over the NMETL, No 13 was renumbered as No 214 in the M&MTB roster and classified into the V class.

M&MTB No 214 (originallly NMETL No 13) in Wallen Road, outiside Hawthorn Depot, March 2005. Photograph courtesy Mal Rowe M&MTB No 214 (originally NMETL No 13) in Wallen Road, outside Hawthorn Depot, March 2005.
Photograph courtesy of Mal Rowe.

This particular type of tramcar was often known as a ‘toastrack’ car. Many trams of similar design were built for use in Brisbane, however the somewhat more inclement climate of Melbourne meant that no more cars of this general type were constructed for use in Melbourne. In NMETL service, it often pulled an unpowered crossbench trailer to cope with heavy passenger loadings, the company having ten of these trailers.

The service handbrake on all NMETL tramcars was the handbrake, challenging motormen driving heavily-laden tramcar and trailer sets down the steep hills on the Essendon tramway. The use of trailers towed by handbraked tramcars continued on the Essendon lines after the 1922 M&MTB takeover, culminating in a serious accident on 15 September 1923 on Mount Alexander Road between Wellington and Victoria Streets. This particular tramcar, V class No 214 towing trailer 54, collided with U class No 211 towing trailer 58, injuring many people. As a result of this accident, the M&MTB immediately banned the use of passenger trailers, and the NMETL tramcars of both U and V classes were quickly fitted with airbrakes. New W class tramcars were rushed to Essendon depot to cover the reduction in passenger-carrying capacity caused by the withdrawal of the crossbench trailers.

It was withdrawn from passenger service in 1925, and initially used for hauling ballast trailers on construction of the West Coburg line. Two years later, it was fitted with windscreens and enclosed with a box type body for use as a freight car, and renumbered as No 2A. In this form it was used to carry spare parts and other materials from Preston Workshops to each of the running depots to enable minor tramcar repairs to be carried out locally.

In 1934 it was renumbered to 17, but continued in its use as a freight car, although it was subsequently equipped with higher power motors in 1950. It was further modified in 1959 to carry large advertising panels on its sides, but it continued carrying freight between the depots.

With the introduction of the Z1 class tramcars, it was renumbered to 17W during April 1976 to avoid duplication with the brand new orange trams, but it was withdrawn from traffic in October 1977 and replaced with a motor truck.

In 1978 it was reconstructed to near original condition as a toastrack passenger car by Preston Workshops for use on tourist services, numbered as V class No 214. It saw intermittent use on a variety of these services for a number of years. In 2006 it was repainted in NMETL livery and numbered back to 13, and in this form was a central part of the celebrations commemorating the centenary of electric trams in Melbourne.

In 2008 this historic tramcar became the first mobile object to be listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, and it is now on display as part of the collection of the Melbourne Tram Museum @ Hawthorn Depot. It is owned by VicTrack on behalf of the Government and people of Victoria.

NMETL No 13, March 2008. Photograph Mike Ryan NMETL No 13, March 2008 at the announcement of its placement on the Heritage Register.
Photograph courtesy of Mike Ryan.

Technical details

Motors: 2 x 40hp (GE 67), 2 x 55hp (GE 241 – from 1950)
Controller: GE K36J
Truck: Brill 21E
Passengers: 50 (seated)
Weight: 10.3 tons
Length: 31 feet 10˝ inches
Width: 8 feet 8 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

Parliamentary Debates (Hansard); Victorian Legislative Assembly Proceedings for 26 September 1923, p1099

Richardson, J. (1963) The Essendon Tramways, Traction Publications