Wednesday, 18 January 2012


On a recent trip, I stayed in Melbourne for five days. It really is a great city. I hear stories of how it used to be dead in the centre to the point where it was known as the donut. There is no evidence of that any more. There is plenty to see and do.

Like other Australian cities, cycling is much more popular than it used to be. I was staying on St Kilda Road and especially during the rush hour, saw lots of cyclists on their way to and from work. There were so many in fact that it was a bit like some of the videos you see about Portland in Oregon where the busiest roads are shown. I say Portland rather than a European city because the cyclists have a look about them that is closer to those seen in North America - on my viewing, they can be divided into three types: (1) mamils, (2) dudes on mountain bikes with cargo shorts and (3) boys and girls on fixies with skater helmets. Interspersed among all of those of course are plenty of women in frocks on Dutch style upright bikes.

The coolest thing about Melbourne for me though is its awesome tram system. Unlike other Australian cities, after the second world war, Melbourne kept its trams. The Chairman of the Tramways Board, Sir Robert Risson, defended the trams against calls for closure and put up a convincing case for keeping them saying it would actually be more expensive to rip up the tracks. It's now one of the biggest networks around.

He argued (correctly I think) that trams will always attract more passengers than an equivalent bus service. He was shown to be correct in 1956 when the Bourke St bus service was upgraded to a tram in time for the Olympic games, despite opposition from newspapers newpapers.

Trams go everywhere and always have a lot of people on them. I didn't get on any tram with fewer than 30. On many streets, old trams stops that required passengers to cross the road in front of traffic have been replaced by new lengthened stops:

You can imagine how Melbourne would grind to a halt if the trams disappeared and all those passengers had to go by car or take a bus service that would inevitably be stuck in traffic. Robert Risson is a legend.
(Borrowed from here because I am really not a very good photographer and just could not take a decent picture of a tram)

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with your comments about trams - if a traffic jam occurs in front of a tram, the tram is stuck, but if a jam happens in front of a bus, it can drive down side streets and come out in front of the traffic jam.

    Also, the new stops have been brought out into what was a road lane; blocking that lane from traffic. For that reason, when a tram stops, all traffic comes to a stop - hundreds of vehicles at times.

    Buses on the other hand will only block the kerb-side lane - all other traffic can continue around it.

    In addition to that, there is something called "Saturation" - the tram network can only support so many vehicles. It's like a power outlet in your home.

    In Australia (240V), a normal power outlet is good for 10 amps, which means the most you can draw from that outlet is 2,400 watts. That means, if you have 240 10 watt gloves, and you add just one more, the system will collapse. You have reached saturation. The tram network is the same - only a certain number of vehicles can work on a line at any one time; one more and the system stops altogether.

    Yours sincerely

    Alan Erskine