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M&MTB X No 217


M&MTB X No 217 at Malvern depot

M&MTB X No 217 at Malvern Depot. Photograph TMSV.

Two single truck Birney Lightweight Safety Cars were imported from the United States in 1923, Nos. 217 and 218. Several thousand of these tramcars were constructed in the USA between 1915 and 1926, of which only a few survive. Six similar tramcars were imported for use in Geelong and Port Adelaide. The two Birney cars were the last imported from the USA for use in Melbourne.

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

These tramcars were used mainly on the Hawthorn and Point Ormond routes, together with use all over the Melbourne system as all-night cars. No 217 was allocated to Footscray Depot in 1956, but received little use prior to being withdrawn in February 1957, when all-night tram services were discontinued. It was acquired by the AETA in 1957, and transferred to the ownership of the TMSV in 1963.

No 217 is finished in early M&MTB chocolate and cream livery with white rocker panels. It is also fitted with two trolley poles, which while originally fitted were removed due to lack of strength in the roof and replaced with bow collectors in 1924 as an experiment. A single trolley pole subsequently replaced these.

This tramcar is currently on loan to the Victorian Government as part of the Heritage Tramcar Fleet. Although in apparently good condition, it is in need of major mechanical and body overhaul. It is suggested that the double trolley poles be reduced to a single pole, in order to reduce stress on the roof members.

There are six other Birney tramcars surviving in Australia — five in Bendigo and one at the AETM in South Australia.

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Last updated 29 January 2003.
Content copyright © Russell Jones 2001-3. Reproduced with permission.