1961: A Pioneer in Public Transit in Australia and New Zealand Passes Away

February 4, 1961

William George Toop Goodman, who made significant contributions to public transit in both Australia and New Zealand, died in the city of College Park in the state of South Australia (SA)  at the age of 88. Goodman had been born in southeastern England in 1872. After studying at educational institutions such as St George’s Boys’ Central School in the English town of Ramsgate and King’s College London, Goodman launched his career as an engineer. He joined the engineering firm of Poole & White in 1891, and his earliest professional projects included work on electric railway systems in London, Liverpool, and Blackpool.

By the mid-1890s, Goodman was working in Australia’s island state of Tasmania as a representative of the Brush Electrical Engineering Company (headquartered in the English town of Loughborough). From 1897 to 1900, he served as assistant electrical engineer in the tramway construction branch of NSW’s Department of Public Works. Goodman subsequently joined the Sydney-based engineering company Noyes Brothers.

As part of his employment with Noyes Brothers, Goodman left Australia for the city of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. It was there that he installed the tracks for New Zealand’s first electric tramway. (New Zealand was still a British colony in the first few years of the 20th century, becoming a dominion of the British Empire in 1907 and achieving full autonomy in 1947.) By 1903, Goodman had left Noyes Brothers to assume the role of Dunedin’s electrical engineer.

Goodman made his way back to Australia in 1907 to become the chief engineer of the recently formed Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT) in SA’s capital city of Adelaide. The formidable task awaiting Goodman in this new position was the modernization of Adelaide’s tramway system.

To say that Goodman was welcomed with open arms as he began this new chapter in his career would be an understatement. “The arrival of Mr. W.G.T. Goodman will mark the beginning of progress towards the long-desired conversion of Adelaide’s horse cars to up-to-date electric traction,” proclaimed the Adelaide-based Evening Journal. “Mr. Goodman has an important issue before him; but he comes to Adelaide backed up by extensive experience and with excellent testimonials respecting his capabilities both in managing and constructing electric tramways. Of striking appearance, the new engineer impresses one as being a man of action, discerning and resolute, and capable of carrying the scheme to a successful issue.”

The year after starting his service as chief engineer, Goodman also became general manager for MTT. He would retain both positions for 42 years and ultimately leave an indelible impact on public transportation in Adelaide. Electric trams in the city became a reality very early in Goodman’s tenure, with the first of those vehicles making their initial runs towards the end of 1908. Adelaide’s electric tramways system was formally inaugurated in 1909; complete electrification of this network was achieved five years later.   

Goodman’s contributions to transit in Adelaide went beyond just trams. In the late 1930s, for example, he introduced double-deck trolleybuses in Port Adelaide (in the port-side section of Adelaide) at a time when the financial ravages of the Great Depression had hindered efforts to extend and even maintain the tramway system.

As a manager, Goodman could be notoriously strict. He also developed a strong reputation for fairness, though. A case in point took place after a motorman was charged with driving a tram off the tracks at the end of one of the lines early one morning. In order to confirm whether that motorman had indeed been negligent, Goodman himself subsequently operated a tram on the same route and at the same time of day. He likewise drove the tram off the tracks at the terminus. It turns out that the area was a lot darker than usual due to a broken street light there, so the charges against the motorman were dropped and he was instead given an official apology.

While transit consumed a lot of his professional existence, Goodman still found time for a wide range of other pursuits and pleasures. He was an accomplished drummer and organist and also spent some of his leisure time flying airplanes. In addition, Goodman enjoyed dancing, deep-sea diving, and watching movies.

During the course of his long career, Goodman was the recipient of several major honors. These included a knighthood in 1932 and the prestigious Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal from the Institution of Engineers Australia in 1945. Goodman continues to be recognized for his achievements more than a half-century after his death. In 2014, a one-time tram bridge in Thebarton (an inner-western suburb of Adelaide) was named the Sir William Goodman Bridge after being reopened as part of a cycleway.

For more information on William George Toop Goodman, please check out http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/goodman-sir-william-george-toop-6423/text10985.

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