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Cable tunnel, Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne, May 2007. Photograph courtesy Mal Rowe.

Cable tunnel, Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne, May 2007. Photograph courtesy Mal Rowe.


TMSV news

Cable tramway sees light of day

During May 2007 road works in North Melbourne have seen cable tram track reappear from underneath six inches of bitumen, where it has been hidden from view for many years.

Removal of the road surface in Abbotsford Street in preparation for construction of a centre median strip has exposed sections of double track of the former West Melbourne cable tram route. Clearly visible are the rails and cable slot, together with the red gum wooden block paving used to surface the roadway. A minor collapse of the roadway in one location has exposed the cable tunnel and one of its supporting yokes — rail bent into a U shape that provided support to the tunnel walls and roadway.


Abbotsford Street cable tramway track, May 2007. Photograph courtesy Russell Jones

Abbotsford Street cable tramway track in May 2007 displaying detail of rails, cable slot and red gum paving blocks preserved under bitumen for over seventy years. Photograph courtesy Russell Jones.

Heritage Victoria has placed an interim protection order on the exposed cable tram track, pending assessment of the historic importance of these remains of Melbourne’s cable tram system. This provides the same level of protection as listing on the Heritage Register for a period of four months, so any works that may disturb or damage the track will place the offender liable to fines of up to $240,000.

Adjacent to the road works is the North Melbourne cable engine house, recently converted into up-market loft-style apartments. A feature of the redevelopment is a comprehensive and well-designed series of display panels around the main entrance, which cover the history of the building and its importance in Melbourne’s cable tramway system. The TMSV provided some of the material to the architects for this display, which has been acknowledged by reference to our website.

Other interesting features of the exposed track adjacent to the engine house include the remains of one of the terminal crossovers, and three white marble strips embedded between the rails that indicated to the driver to throw the rope from the grip.

The West Melbourne line was constructed by the Melbourne Tramways Trust, operated by the Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Company, and notable for being operated with small six-window trailer cars, unlike the majority of the system which was run with larger eight window trailer cars, or the Elizabeth Street lines that used operated with twelve-window bogie trailer cars.

Former North Melbourne cable engine house, May 2007. Photograph courtesy Russell Jones

Former North Melbourne cable engine house shown in proximity to Abbotsford Street roadworks exposing cable tram track in May 2007. Photograph courtesy Russell Jones.

The line was closed by the M&MTB on 20 July 1935, but was not converted to electric traction. Instead, the cable trams were replaced by motor omnibuses.

A condition of the Act enabling the construction of the cable tramway system was that if any line was abandoned, the track was required to be removed and the roadway reinstated by the owning authority. Where cable trams were replaced by electric traction this was not really an issue, but the M&MTB was quite lax in removing cable tramway track that was replaced by bus operation, much of it not being removed until the late 1950s.

Clearly, the M&MTB never quite got around to removing the track from Abbotsford Street, which explains its sudden reappearance into the light of day.

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Last updated 4 June 2007.
Content copyright © Russell Jones 2001-7. Reproduced with permission.