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M&MTB Z1 No 5

This tramcar has an interesting history. It is one of only four Melbourne tramcars [1] to have been classified in three different classes during its service life — Z, ZC and Z1. It was also used to test many modifications to Z class trams prior to their general introduction to the rest of the fleet.


Interior of M&MTB Z No 5 as built. Official M&MTB photograph.

The introduction of the Z class in 1975 began the renaissance of the Melbourne tramways after the retirement of Sir Henry Bolte as Premier of Victoria, who was thoroughly in the pocket of the motoring lobby. His replacement as Premier, Rupert Hamer (later Sir Rupert), although from the same political party, was much more focused on issues of lifestyle, the environment and public transport. The placement of the order for 100 Z class trams in 1974 (later increased to 115, the extra 15 cars being classified as Z2 although almost identical to the original order) was driven by the need to win Sir Rupert’s first election as incumbent Premier.

To highlight the beginning of a new era in Melbourne’s tramways, the introduction of the Z class resulted in the restarting of the tramcar numbering at 1 and a distinctive new orange livery. In addition, unlike all previous cars, the Z class never bore the M&MTB insignia.

These tramcars were built by Comeng in its Dandenong factory, using traction equipment from ASEA. The design was based on the Gothenberg M28 class, with the general layout being based on M&MTB PCC 1041, built in 1973. The Z class door and seating layout is an example of the Peter Witt design philosophy developed in Cleveland in 1915, and first tried in Melbourne on the five cars of the Y and Y1 classes. Final fitting-out of Z class tramcars occurred at Preston Workshops.

However, the Peter Witt layout was viewed with suspicion by the tramways union, the Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees Association, who saw this design as a step towards one man tram crews. This issue had resulted in the withdrawal of the five Y and Y1 class cars from passenger service ten years previously. In order to pacify the union, Z class cars were fitted with fixed raised conductor’s consoles at each end of the car as per number 1041, to effectively build in the need for two man crews.

This meant that roving conductors were never used in Z class tramcars. There was considerable public resentment over the loss of convenience from having fixed conductor’s consoles, as well as the consequent reduction in space for seating, although it did result in a significant reduction in fare evasion by forcing intending passengers to use the front doors.

This change in crewing arrangements also meant the disappearance of the two bell signal issued by the conductor to advise the driver to shut the doors and move, as the bell was replaced by a buzzer which had to be cancelled by the driver opening the doors before it could be used again to signal. It also meant that the conductor could not signal an emergency to the driver (formerly three bells), effectively making the driver entirely responsible for the safety of the passengers.

However, this change in philosophy was the beginning of the end for two-man crews in Melbourne, although they would persist for more than another twenty years.

Conductors working on Z class cars were issued with ticket issuing machines for use in their consoles, the first use of such machines in Melbourne tramcars, conductors having previously issued flimsies from their bags. However, with the introduction of ticketing zones as a result of Cain government public transport initiatives (along with the formation of the MTA), these ticketing machines fell out of use, being replaced by a variety of pre-printed tickets.

One Z class feature that was welcomed by the public was the introduction of heating, although not when it could not be turned off during a hot summer’s day — a common failing of the class.

Z class cars 1—5 entered service on the same day, 30 April 1975, running on Bourke Street routes, which were the first to be converted to all Z class operation. In 1977 Z 5 was modified to use ASEA chopper control equipment, the first tram in the world to do so, and the only one in Melbourne. As a result, number 5 was reclassified as ZC class. This equipment was fitted for testing purposes for the follow-on Z3 class, but these cars ended up using AEG chopper control equipment in place of ASEA.

However, it was found that the early Z class were quite rough riding and hard on curves and special work. As number 5 was being used to test modifications, the bolsters and other suspension components were modified in an attempt to improve the ride. The experiment was successful, with trams 81—100 being built with the modified equipment and classified as Z1. All the other Z class cars were gradually modified likewise and reclassified Z1 as well.

The ASEA chopper control was not 100% successful on number 5, resulting in it spending a lot of time out of service. So when Z2 class 102 was damaged by fire in 1982, the opportunity was taken to scrap this car and reuse its traction equipment to convert number 5 back to standard as a Z1 class, ending its brief time as the only ZC class car.

After this, number 5 led a more mundane life. With the formation of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA, or ‘The Met’) in 1983 came a change of owner from the M&MTB, and subsequently a change in livery to green and yellow.

It underwent modifications as did the rest of the Z1 and Z2 classes, including replacement of trolley poles with pantographs, and strengthening of the body around the centre doors. Along with the remaining cars of these types, ownership passed to Swanston Trams on corporatisation of Melbourne’s public transport system under the Kennett government.

Swanston Trams was taken over by the National Express Group, later being named M>Tram. Along with the changes that privatisation brought came modifications to Z class tramcars so they could be operated by one man crews. The conductor’s consoles were removed, and electronic ticket machines and validators fitted. This also resulted in a reduction of seating capacity, as the financial imperatives of the State Government’s ticketing contract with OneLink did not permit additional seating to be installed to replace the conductor’s consoles and compensate for those lost to the ticket machines.

Unlike most other Z1 and Z2 tramcars, number 5 did not receive dot matrix destination screens, retaining its original flip-over screens, but it remained in Met green and yellow along with the rest of them.

With the introduction of the Siemens Combino low floor vehicles, many Z1 and Z2 tramcars were becoming surplus to M>Tram requirements. Number 5 ended up allocated to Glenhuntly Depot and was donated to the TMSV by M>Tram only days before National Express withdrew from its Victorian public transport contracts in December 2002.


M&MTB Z1 No 5, in Met colours, newly arrived at Bylands.

Z1 number 5 was selected by the TMSV for preservation due to its good general (and original) body and mechanical condition, having spent a considerable amount of time out of traffic, as well as its historical significance. However, it was not immediately transferred to Bylands, instead remaining in service for some little while on short runs, being officially withdrawn at 8:46pm on Thursday 6 February 2003, after returning to Glenhuntly Depot from running Chapel Street services that day.

It was transferred to Preston Workshops on the following Monday, when the ticket machines and AVM equipment were removed. The car was transferred to Bylands on 18 February 2003.

On arrival the pantograph was removed and replaced with an adapter with a trolley base and pole, and the remaining trolley base at the other end being refitted with a pole to enable use at Bylands. Rooftop knifeboard advertising boards have also been removed.

It is planned to restore Z1 number 5 to its original body condition with conductor’s consoles, original seating configuration and M&MTB orange livery. However, it will not enter regular service at Bylands until it can be accredited under the TMSV safety procedures.


[1] One of the other tramcars was 275, built as a W class. It was modified along with all other W trams between 1927 and 1933 into a W2 class tram. It then suffered serious accident damage in the early 1950s, and was rebuilt to the same standard as 644 as an SW2 class tramcar. It was subsequently renumbered as 1275 after introduction of the Z3 class. Interestingly enough, this tramcar is also preserved, by Central Deborah Bendigo (Bendigo Tramways).

The other tramcars to be classified in three different classes were 681 and 682, both of which were built as CW5 cars with maximum traction trucks, later being converted to standard W5 configuration in 1956 and as SW5 rebuilds in the 1980s.

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Last updated 8 May 2003.
Content copyright © Russell Jones 2001-3. Reproduced with permission.