History

Founded in 1996, the Portland Cable Tram project is the culmination of more than 20,000 volunteer hours donated by more than 100 members who lovingly restored and rebuilt the saloon and grip cars to their former glory.

The trams hark back to the Melbourne cable tram era of 1885-1940, and are built to the specifications of the time. The two grip cars used by Portland Cable Trams were built from scratch and are exact replicas apart from the diesel motor they use. The two saloon cars actually ran on the Melbourne system during the cable tram era. Salon Car No. 95 was salvaged from a property in Swan Hill and restored by volunteers. Saloon Car No. 171 was donated by Daryl and Julie Hawksworth, who had restored it to commemorate the 100th anniversary of cable trams operating in Melbourne.

about-imgThe Portland Cable Tram cars now run with a modified system using diesel motors to power the trams as it would be virtually impossible to use the complicated underground cable network originally used to drive cable trams. (See section below “The history of the cable tram in Melbourne” for more information.)

A SHORT HISTORY OF CABLE TRAMS IN MELBOURNE

The Melbourne cable tramway system was a public transport system that operated in the city from 1885 to 1940. The system grew to around 75km of double track with 1,200 cars and trailers in operation from the centre of Melbourne to neighbouring suburbs. The Melbourne system was one of the largest cable car networks in the world and was comparable to San Francisco and Chicago. It operated via moving cables with huge reels and hundreds of miles of cables under the streets of Melbourne. The grip cars used on the system were so named because they gripped one of these moving underground cables and was pulled along the street. Although the first electric tram was introduced in 1885, this alternate tram network did not seriously commence until 1906 when the tram lines were extended through the suburbs. From 1924, the cable tram lines were progressively converted to electric trams with the very last Melbourne cable tram finishing up on 26th October 1940.

The restoration and building of the tram sets was done entirely by volunteer labour, initially led by Keith McMillan and a team of largely retired people. The second grip car was built by Donald Errey and donated to Portland Cable Tram Inc.

After the Melbourne cable tram system was transferred to the electric system, the existing cable tram cars were sold off to whoever wanted them. One saloon car found its way to Portland as a holiday shack, the first appearance of a cable tram in the town. Many years later a “work for the dole” scheme restored that saloon car and also built a replica grip car under the auspices of the Portland Vintage Car Club and project manager, the aforementioned Keith McMillan.

Once the two cars were restored and built, the question was “what should we do with them?” And that’s where Portland Cable Trams Inc. came in.

Established in 1996, the not-for-profit community organisation wanted to give back to the community, and the lovingly restored tram cars seemed the perfect way to do just that. Another two cars were sourced, a track built and the rest, as they say, is history. The Portland Cable Tram officially started operating in 2002 and has had more than 135,000 passengers over that time.

The Portland Cable Tram project including the track works is estimated to have cost more than $2 million. The money was raised through the generosity of many wonderful supporters including the Handbury Family Trust, the Glenelg Shire Council, the State and Federal Governments, and many local people and businesses who contributed both cash and in-kind donations. We thank each and every one of them!

Portland Cable Trams is now run by a dedicated group of some 60 volunteers who work as tram drivers, conductors, administration, Officers In Charge, tram maintenance workers, depot cleaners, track maintenance, customer service officers, gardeners, and museum display and maintenance workers.