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Feeding & filling: the story of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Trust

Feeding and Filling… Feeding and Filling… Feeding and Filling…

The Prahran & Malvern Tramways were feeders. Feeders to the cable tramways. Feeders to the suburban railways. The Victorian Railways did not like the tramways, they thought that the trams would compete for custom. However, instead of taking custom away, the trams created traffic. The Prahran & Malvern Tramways were also fillers. They filled the trains with passengers, and more importantly, they filled the paddocks with homes. The provision of good public transport was a major reason for the development of residential subdivisions.

P&MTT No 4 at the Wattletree Road Terminus. Photograph TMSV collection.
P&MTT No 4 at the Wattletree Road Terminus, pre-1914. Photograph TMSV collection.

On 30 May 1910, the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Trust, with some four and a half route miles, opened for business. From this grew the largest electric tramway system in Melbourne in the pre-M&MTB era, with routes totalling over 35 route miles when finally absorbed by the M&MTB in 1920. Now, 80 years [sic] after the first run, the influence of the P&MTT on the network is still visible. The 80th anniversary is a fitting time to review some of the highlights of the P&MTT story. Since the volume of material is enormous, a detailed history is a task for the future.

For many years, efforts were made to have a transport link built between the adjacent municipalities of Malvern and Prahran but differences repeatedly arose and negotiations were continually frustrated. A determined effort was made to settle the problems in 1907 and finally Mr Alexander Cameron (who at the time was a Malvern councillor, and soon to become Chairman of the P&MTT) came forward with some definite proposals. These formed the basis for an Act of Parliament that constituted a Trust to construct and manage the new tramway.

The Hon. Thomas Luxton MLC, Mr Donald MacKinnon MLA, and Mr Norman Bayles MLA, piloted the Bill through Parliament, and after some minor amendments had been inserted (chiefly at the instigation of the Labor Party, and bearing upon the hours of labour and wage levels) the Bill was passed on 23 December 1907.

On 20 October 1909, construction commenced on lines from Charles Street Prahran, along High Street to Tooronga Road Malvern, and from the corner of High Street Malvern, along Glenferrie and Wattletree Roads to Burke Road. The permanent way was 4' 8½" gauge load with 90 lb grooved rails on sleepers, ballasted with blue-metal and surfaced with tarred macadam and tarred rolled screenings. The current collection adopted was overhead, under-running fixed trolley. Electricity was supplied by the Melbourne Electricity Supply Company from its Richmond power station, and was transmitted as 4000 V AC to the P&MTT substation at Malvern for conversion to 600 V DC. The car shed, substation, offices and workshop were built just off Glenferrie Road in Coldblo Road, and 13 single-truck combination cars were ordered. A five minute service was operated along High Street between Charles Street and Glenferrie Road with ten minute headways on the remaining sections of the routes. At Prahran, the track in High Street was extended westwards to Punt Road on 14 May 1911.

During 1911, the car fleet and the depot were expanded and negotiations to build further lines on behalf of, and at the expense of, the Councils of Hawthorn, Kew, St Kilda and Caulfield were instigated. The trust was re-constituted and comprised the Chairman, and one representative each from the municipal councils of Prahran, Malvern, St Kilda and Caulfield.

On 16 December, the line from Wattletree Road Malvern along Glenferrie and Dandenong Roads to the railway line at Windsor was opened. This was extended to Chapel Street in February 1912. The High Street line was extended westwards to St Kilda Road on 14 September 1912. This had not been possible earlier since the area was outside the municipal boundary of Prahran and involved negotiations with the Melbourne City Council. An extension from Tooronga Road to near Glen Iris railway station was opened on 28 March 1914.

The opening of the ‘Balaclava Road extension’ on 12 April 1913 from Dandenong Road Malvern to St Kilda Beach via Hawthorn and Balaclava Roads and Carlisle Street was followed on 30 May 1913 by an extension through Kew along Glenferrie and Cotham Roads to Burke Road Camberwell, and to High Street at Kew Post Office.

In view of the difficulty in separating revenue earned from the tramways across several municipalities (initially required for a mileage dissection of profit or loss due to or from the Councils, and to secure more economic operations) a further re-constitution of the Trust occurred in October 1913 with the Hawthorn and Kew Councils joining the P&MTT.

Opening of the Elsternwick line, 13 November 1913. Photograph R. Bishop collection.
Opening of the Elsternwick line, 13 November 1913. Photograph R. Bishop collection.

On 13 November 1913 the lines from Balaclava Junction (corner of Hawthorn and Balaclava Roads Caulfield) via Hawthorn and Glenhuntly Roads to Elsternwick railway station, and via Glenhuntly Road to Grange Road Glenhuntly, and via Balaclava and Waverley Roads to Darling Road East Malvern were opened. On 24 April 1914 the Caulfield station loop line was opened, being built to serve the nearby racecourse.

In anticipation of further development and the extension to Point Ormond, a small substation was constructed at Rusden Street Elsternwick, utilising equipment made surplus by the modernising and expansion of the capacity of the Coldblo Road substation. It came into operation in December 1914.

The Malvern Road tramway from St Kilda Road to Burke Road Gardiner opened for traffic on 8 April 1915, and the line from Elsternwick railway station along Glenhuntly Road to Point Ormond opened on 4 June 1915.

During 1915 the city of Camberwell joined the Trust. In this year the Trust tabled a report on proposed new routes that it had been asked to construct and operate. The proposals totalled some 22 route miles and ranged from short links with existing services run by other authorities to developmental lines in sparsely populated areas which, in the view of the Trust, would have exposed its member councils to the possibility of being required to contribute to a deficiency. However, in view of the economic dislocation consequent upon the war, increases in the cost of importing materials and the difficulty in raising loans on favourable terms, the Trust felt that none of the proposals should be entertained until normal conditions prevailed once more.

One of the proposals was for a line from the terminus of the Brighton Road cable tramway to the Trust’s Glenhuntly tramway. This was virtually an extension of the cable line and would have been built as such but for the high cost of construction inseparable from that system. It was not until 29 August 1926 when the M&MTB electrified this cable line that the extension was made.

In pursuance of the Kew Tramways Act (1914), the Kew Council purchased from the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company Ltd its interest in the lease of the horse tram from Victoria Street Bridge Richmond, to the Booroondara Cemetery and the Trust constructed an electric tramway along this route with an extension to Harp Road East Kew. The section from the east side of Victoria Bridge to the Kew Post Office was opened on 24 February 1915. The next section to the Cemetery operated from 8 May, but the final length had to wait for the completion of a substation in the new Kew Depot, and opened on 26 November 1915.

In 1916 the Hawthorn Tramways Trust, having a shortage of tramcars to meet traffic demands on its newly opened network, approached the Trust for assistance. As a result the P&MTT sold four cars (21-24) of a less than successful closed combination bogie design to the HTT.


P&MTT D class No 36 at Deepdene, circa 1914-15. Photograph TMSV collection.

P&MTT D class No 36 at Deepdene, circa 1914-15. Photograph TMSV collection.

An extension of the Whitehorse Road line from Burke Road Camberwell to Union Road Mont Albert opened in September 1916. At St Kilda Beach terminus a balloon loop and waiting shelter were opened together with a café, which was offered for leasing (various source state the date as 18 March and 20 December 1916). A short extension across Victoria Bridge to the cable tram terminus was built to facilitate passenger interchange, following the reconstruction of the bridge which re-opened on 10 June 1916. On 6 December 1917, a long-awaited extension along Burke Road opened from Malvern Road Gardiner to Camberwell railway station. The remaining segment to Cotham Road Deepdene opened on 7 March 1918, but due to the delay in completing the tramway/railway level crossing, trams could not be through routed until September of that year.

In 1919 it was decided that the ‘Newell’ magnetic track brakes fitted to tramcars were unsuitable in view of the heavy maintenance cost entailed in its use for service stops. The British Westinghouse Company secured the contract for air-brake equipment and all cars were re-fitted during 1919-1921.

The Trust had an arrangement with the MTOC for the issue of tourist tickets covering a round trip from any point on certain lines 16 miles back to the starting point. The route extended by an electric tram from St Kilda Beach to the Victoria Bridge via Balaclava, Glenferrie, Cotham and Barkers Roads. The tourist then changed to a cable car to the City and thence back to St Kilda Beach via St Kilda Road.

Mr A. Cameron, The Chairman of the Trust from its inception, resigned from his position on 31 October 1919, to become Chairman of the M&MTB. Mr H. Dix, Engineer and Manager of the system became Chairman for the Trust’s final three months. The Trust was taken over by the M&MTB on 2 February 1920.

The take-over was not the end of the P&MTT, of which many signs survive to this day. The most noticeable (beside the routes themselves) are the depots. At Malvern, the main shed and offices remain, but with some minor alterations. The workshop and storage yard to the north of Coldblo Road have been replaced by a new running shed. Kew Depot also stands, but with duplicated running shed on the north side, as does the Rusden Street substation, but the hum of the old motor-generator sets is no longer heard there.

The cars were absorbed into the M&MTB’s fleet. Several were subsequently sold to the Victorian provincial cities’ tramway systems (at Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong) from the late 1920s to the early 1950s and can still be seen in the two goldfields cities. Yet another ex-P&MTT tramcar is preserved in South Australia at the AETM.

Three former P&MTT cars in various states of repair (Geelong 40, F 46 and Ballarat 17) found their way into the TMSV’s ownership at Bylands. The four motor bogie cars, designed and built during the transfer of ownership, showed a radical change of design. They were the forerunners of the ‘W’ class, which became the basic Melbourne design. Although not in regular service, two of these are still to be seen as part of the Heritage fleet of vintage Melbourne trams, and the class leader is at Bylands.

Being the largest electric system acquired by the M&MTB and the home ground of many senior M&MTB personnel, it was only natural that many P&MTT practices were continued by the new organisation. The revised fleet numbering system was an extension of the P&MTT scheme and many Trust operating procedures and construction standards were adopted.

The existence of the cable tramways had blocked direct access to the City for the Trust’s electric cars and modal interchanges were an unpopular necessity. Because many of these were along St Kilda Road, it was not long before the M&MTB electrified this thoroughfare and contributing routes. Today the electric lines link the constituent cities of the P&MTT with each other, with the Melbourne central business district and other municipalities in the now inner middle-distant suburbs.

P&MTT route numbers (as at July 1918)

No Destination   Night lights
1 Burke Road to St Kilda Road 2 white
2 Glen Iris to St Kilda Road 2 red
3 St Kilda Road to Depot red + white
4 Esplanade to Deepdene red + green
5 Victoria Bridge to Riversdale Road 2 green
6 Victoria Bridge to Esplanade white + green
7 Malvern Town Hall to Esplanade 1 white
8 Wattletree Road to Windsor 2 green
9 Esplanade to Caulfield amber + red
10 Darling Road to Elsternwick 2 red
11 Grange Road to Point Ormond green + amber
12 Deepdene to St Kilda Road via Gardiner 2 green
13 St Kilda Road to Glenferrie/Malvern Roads junction 2 amber
14 Victoria Bridge to East Kew 2 white
15 Victoria Bridge to Mont Albert 2 red
16 St Kilda Road to Gardiner 1 green

M&MTB L class No 105 in the 1920s. Photograph TMSV collection.
M&MTB L class No 105 in the 1920s. Photograph TMSV collection.

P&MTT tramcar fleet

No M&MTB class Built Description Seats
1-20 A 1910-11 Single truck drop-end California combination 36
21-24 O 1912 Maximum traction bogie closed combination (sold to HTT 1916) 54
25-35 C 1913 Maximum traction bogie drop centre drop end combination 56
36 D 1914 Maximum traction bogie drop centre drop end combination (as for 37-45 but modified in 1915 for conductresses) 56
37-45 E 1914 Maximum traction bogie drop centre drop end combination 56
46-47 F 1912 Single truck straight sill semi-open cross-bench (clerestory roof)  
48-53 G 1913 Single truck straight sill semi-open cross-bench (vent arch roof — modified in 1918 to combination car)  
54-63 H 1913 Single truck drop-end California combination 36
64-83 J 1915-16 Single truck drop-end California combination 36
21-24 B 1917-18 Single truck drop-end California combination 36
84-90 B 1917-18 Single truck drop-end California combination 36
91-100 K 1919-20 Single truck straight sill California combination 36
101-106 L 1921 Four motor bogie drop centre combination 56


P&MTT Annual Reports
P&MTT Report: Proposed Tramways
The Prahran Telegraph
Destination Eaglehawk
Destination City

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Last updated 18 December 2003.
Content copyright © 1970 Graham Breydon. © 1990, 2003 Tramway Museum Society of Victoria.