Trams to Make Comeback on Auckland’s Streets

After an absence of more than 50 years electric trams are coming back to Auckland streets.

Early in June the ARC signed off on the $7.4m first stage of a heritage tramway project for Auckland’s waterfront, to be managed by Sea+City Projects Limited, an ARC Group owned agency tasked with redeveloping the Wynyard waterfront

The project’s first stage will see trams circuiting the 30 ha Wynyard Quarter – the second stage will extend the tramway along Quay Street to the Britomart Transport Centre via a future Te Wero bridge.

The idea of a waterfront tramway was first brought to the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee early last year by the Campaign for Better Transport and Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).  The idea certainly caught my imagination and I have thrown my personal support behind it.

Artists impression of tram at Britomart

My fellow ARC members have also been supportive.  Over the last year feasibility studies have also been carried out by the ARC transport and urban development officers and also by Sea+City.  I am very pleased to see this work come to fruition.

Phase one of the waterfront tramway will focus on Wynyard Quarter with a single track loop circuiting Jellicoe Street, Gaunt Street Daldy Street and Halsey Street..  The Jellicoe Street section (eastern end) will extend to the Gateway Plaza on the western side of the Viaduct Harbour.  The service will be designed to link with bus public transport from Fanshawe Street.

Sidings at the western end of Jellicoe Street will house the trams in buildings beside the proposed Silo Park which is being designed by Sea + City to attract people to the western end of Jellicoe Street.  This is planned to be ready in time for the Rugby World Cup in September next year.

I’m so pleased that Sea + City have taken up the tram idea with such enthusiasm.  John Dalzell, Chief Executive and Project Director for Sea+City, says the concept of running trams around the Wynyard Quarter will further activate the area for public use and enjoyment.  He’s right.  A heritage tramway will be a real point of distinction for the Wynyard waterfront. 

In approving the project we have recommended Sea+City work closely with MOTAT.  MOTAT have a tremendous amount of expertise in rebuilding and maintaining tramways and heritage trams.  We would certainly welcome the opportunity for MOTAT to run its fine Auckland heritage trams on the waterfront.  Unfortunately classic Auckland trams are few and far between. Of the 226 trams which used to ply Auckland’s streets in the 1950s only 3 working examples are left.  MOTAT in order to meet the heavy demand on its own successful tramway also runs Melbourne heritage trams of which there are still some n storage in Melbourne.  Last May I met with Victorian State officials to discuss the possibility of obtaining a number of Melbourne SW trams for our new waterfront tramway and the response was very positive.  We are also looking at the feasibility of rebuilding classic Auckland trams such as the very attractive ‘Streamliner’ class tram.

Auckland’s popular electric trams were removed from the city streets in 1956 – a terrible mistake in my opinion.  As a mark of how popular and effective trams were, up until that time when Auckland’s population was less than 400,000 Auckland had over 100 million passenger trips per year – and 80 million trips of those were by electric tram.

Nowadays with 1.4 million people we have only 58 million public transport trips per year, mainly by diesel bus and at a substantial cost in ratepayer/taxpayer subsidies. 

Auckland’s popular tramway extended across the isthmus – a network of 72kms and the terminal at Onehunga was only 9 km from the future international airport.  When in the mid 1950s the city fathers decided to withdraw the electric trams they also decided to rip out (at great cost) all 72km of this track.  This in my opinion was an appalling act of civic vandalism – and a mistake Auckland has never recovered from.  As a consequence Auckland public transport patronage collapsed virtually overnight and Auckland went from being one of the best public transport cities in the world to one of the worst. 

The ARC would like to see the return of some of those same trams to Auckland’s waterfront in 2011 as part of our legacy to the people of Auckland.  This is of course a very modest initiative  – but the longest journeys begin with one small step.

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