1912: The First Trial Runs for an Australian Transit Service

January 10, 1912

In Australia, the first test was performed on a new tram line built in the port city of Geelong in the state of Victoria. There had been proposals to build such a transit service in Geelong as far back as 1888, and construction on the city’s tram system by the Melbourne Electric Supply Company finally began towards the end of 1910. Along with building the network, the Melbourne Electric Supply Company was in charge of its operations.

For the initial test on the completed system, one of the electric tram cars was taken out of the storage shed for those vehicles so that it could be run on the line. This tram car, noted the Melbourne-based newspaper The Age, “ran very smoothly.” Notwithstanding this positive assessment, the test was cut short because of the ever-increasing number of people who gathered in the area on that Wednesday afternoon to watch the tram car in action.

“Although there were less than a dozen people in the thoroughfare when the car left the shed a crowd of 500 quickly congregated and necessitated the termination of the trial earlier than was anticipated,” reported The Age. “The cars will be given a run over the whole of the route this week.” By January 12, one of the tram cars was indeed able to complete a test run on the entire line.

A couple of months later, Geelong’s tram system was officially opened to a great deal of fanfare and — according to the Melbourne-based newspaper The Leader — “under very happy auspices.” The Leader reported, “The weather was fine, the streets crowded, and there was such a profuse display of flags and bunting that Geelong wore quite a festive appearance.” (The above photo was taken during that celebration.)

A major part of the opening day’s activities was a celebratory procession of four decorated tram cars. The dignitaries addressing the crowd that day included Robert Williams, mayor of Geelong; and Agar Wynne, a member of the Australian House of Representatives and the chairman of the board of directors for the Melbourne Electric Supply Company.

The Melbourne Electric Supply Company operated Geelong’s trams until 1930, when the system was taken over by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. This tram system continued to thrive over the next several years. In 1940, one of the lines was extended to the Eastern Beach on the shores of Cario Bay in Geelong to make it easier for beachgoers to visit that popular local destination. The ridership on Geelong’s trams also increased during that decade as a result of World War II, with more people using transit because of gas rationing that was in effect. In addition, many people relied on the tram system during the war years to get to their jobs at munitions factories that had been opened in the region.

By the mid-1950s, however, the days of Geelong’s tram system were numbered. The government of Victoria Premier Henry Bolte pushed for replacing those trams with buses, and the Geelong Chamber of Commerce supported this decision. Even though a large number of area residents strongly protested eliminating the city’s trams, the system was shut down altogether in 1956. The tram car making the final run for this service had been among the vehicles used for helping to test the then-new line 44 years earlier.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on the tram system in Geelong, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trams_in_Geelong

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