Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

Ex-CDA comments, suggestions, criticisms

ADDED : February, 2019



Goodbye to Old Friends

All-night trams on "Death Row" and about to be scrapped at the Preston Workshops in May 1957, after the end of the all-night service three months previously.

A MMTB trial in running on all-night trams with two-man crew trams commenced on a limited basis in 1921; fares were nearly double that of normal day services and the experiment ended a few months later.  The trial was conducted with electric trams only – a cable operation was economically not feasible as the steam-operated engine houses driving the cables required a full engineering crew, no matter how many or few cable trams were run. Another major operational cost - consumption of coal by the steam engines – was also relatively unaffected by the density of tram traffic.

The other difficulty was that to attract patronage, the all-night service had to attract passengers to and from the entertainments in the central business district, but this remained exclusively the province of the cable systems previously operated by the municipal trusts.

The idea was revived in September, 1936 after a trial over the previous festive season despite opposition from churches, "wowser" groups, unions and most vehemently, the proprietors of bus companies who had been operating similar services for some years.

Ten one-man cars were used for the initial service. Other routes had to wait until more trams were modified at Preston Workshops for all-night work – this entailed sealing over all the entrances bar that behind the driver with weather blinds, leaving just the door adjacent to the driver open so he could collect fares.   The conversion was completed with exterior sign-writing next to the entrance advising passengers ‘Pay As You Enter’ and ‘Exact Fare Please’.

After trials on six selected lines commencing 14 February, 1937, hourly all-night trams were operated on 20 routes (including East Preston) from 27 July, 1941, partly as an austerity measure with petrol rationing dramatically restricting the use of private cars. A MMTB bus service operated from Northcote to Port Melbourne, and an all-night service linking West Preston and the East Preston line at St. George's-road operated from 2 August.

Most of the trams used were over twenty years old and showing their age - although popular immediately after their introduction due to rationing, the services never showed a profit, but the MMTB was happy to provide the service, stating it valued the appreciation of its patrons who used the all-night trams.

Post-war, a number of industrial disputes arose over the use of one-man crews and patronage began to fall with the resumption of wide-spread use of private automobiles.  The final crunch came in 1956 with the introduction of television dramatically affecting attendances at dances, cinemas, theatres, etc.; the all-night service was dropped the following year.

Fortunately, the fate of one of the sad looking line-up facing the scrapheap at the Preston Workshops took a significant turn for the better – the car third from left, X 217, was later restored and  is now in the collection of the Melbourne Tram Museum in Hawthorn.

It is historically significant in that it is one of two single truck Birney Lightweight Safety Cars imported by the MMBW from the United States in 1923. These were hoped to meet the challenge of motor omnibuses by providing a tram which was cheap to construct and could be operated economically on low density passenger routes by single man crews, but proved very uncomfortable and the experiment was not continued with.

It was acquired by the Australian Electric Traction Association in 1957, and transferred to the ownership of the Tramway Museum Society of Victoria in 1963, which restored it to original condition at the rear of Malvern Depot. The other Birney, X 218, is second from the left.

Perhaps not completely relevant to the above image, but given the MMTB's standardisation on green and yellow livery in the early 1920's probably led to the schoolboy "howler" of the 50's and 60's …

Q. Why are trams like bananas?  A. 'Cos they're green and yellow and travel in bunches!

Birney car X 217 after restoration

They were fitted with a number of advanced safety features including a controller interlocked with the brakes, car doors and sanding mechanism, so that the tram could not be moved until the doors were closed. These were also the first Melbourne trams fitted with air operated doors.

Driven by two 25 horsepower motors, they could carry 33 seated passengers) and 17 standing.

The car was restored finished in early M&MTB chocolate and cream livery with white rocker panels.

 Darebin’s Transport : Tall Tales and True