W-class warfare

Graeme Turner
Many people love Melbourne's old trams. But they are uncomfortable, noisy and slow. They are also inaccessible for many people with a disability. The new Victorian Government is spending up to $8 million on the old trams. The money will be spend on restoring the trams. The government says it will also try to improve access for people with a disability. Some people say hoists should be used to lift people onto the trams. Many people would also like more raised tram stops to be built. The raised stops would allow more people with a disability to use the trams.
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Graeme Turner on 27/01/2011
A yellow and green W-class tram on the streets of Melbourne

Melbourne’s trams are an icon of our city

Melbourne’s old W-class trams are an icon of our city. They are loved by many people around the world. But some Melburnians argue they are uncomfortable, noisy and slow. They do not have air conditioning. It means they can be hot in summer and cold in winter. Worse still, they are inaccessible to many people with a disability. 

The previous Victorian Government promised to remove the aging W-class fleet from circulation. The only W-class trams that were to remain were the 12 free city circle trams.

Restoring the trams

Now the new Victorian Government is promising up to $8 million to restore W-class trams. Department of Transport spokesperson Julie McNamara says the trams will be restored to near original condition but include modifications.

Ms McNamara says the government will work with Yarra Trams to try to improve access for people with a disability. Routes to be considered for W-class trams include South Melbourne, St Kilda, Prahran, Brunswick and Coburg.

Heritage value

The National Trust supports the retention of W-class trams on routes like Prahran and St Kilda. The Trust believes the trams have significant heritage value.

The trams were first introduced to Melbourne in the 1930s. They are strongly connected to Melbourne’s image. Melbourne is the only city in Australia that still has an extensive tram network. The Trust is also concerned about sales of W-class trams to cities like Milan and San Francisco. They believe just retaining the old trams on the city circle is not sufficient.

Accessibility problem

The major accessibility problem with W-class trams is the steps that people need to climb to board the tram. New low-floor trams and super stops enable people who use wheelchairs and scooters to easily board the tram. But W-class trams do not meet modern access standards.

It has been suggested that hoists could be fitted to W-class trams to improve accessibility. The hoists could lift people in wheelchairs into the tram. But some people claim that using a hoist would be embarrassing and slow.

End the apartheid

Frank Hall-Bentick has advocated for the rights of people with a disability for decades. He says there is no reason to continue the apartheid where one group of people can use (the trams) and the other can’t. Let’s end that, Mr Hall-Bentick says. The solution is to make them accessible. 

Mr Hall-Bentick says low-floor trams and raised tram stops are the best option for people with a disability. But he supports the use of hoists to make old trams more accessible. He says people who argue against hoists are probably throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Mr Hall-Bentick says people successfully use hoists overseas. He does not see the time taken to use a hoist as significantly holding up traffic. He adds that they are already used in large taxis.

Accessible stops

Mr Hall-Bentick says accessible stops should also be constructed on lines that use W-class trams. There should be stops at the ends and key points along the routes. Mr Hall-Bentick says this should include the city circle tourist route. People with disability can be tourists too. They should be able to enjoy sights experienced by others.

Meyer Eidelson is the equity and access coordinator at Action on Disability in Ethnic Communities. He says many of his members value heritage. He says W-class trams have a place in an expanded fleet.

We need more trams, Mr Eidelson says. We need more of them and we need them to be accessible. He says more trams would ensure less over-crowding.


Do you think Melbourne’s W-class trams should be retained? Let us know in the comments section below.

Readers comments (5)

Just the thing you want when traveling to work, or going to shop for groceries. To be hoisted in some kind of mechanical device into a tram. Can you imagine this in peak hour on a busy route, slowly being hoisted onto a tram with hundreds of onlookers gawking at you. I am sure these hoists would break down at least occasionally, probably frequently. Then what emergency workers would need to be called. This is completely impractical. We need trams so we can get to work, and live independently not go for a joyride to see what the outside world looks like.

The old trams are a beautiful icon, but a better icon for the city would be showing a real commitment to equity and accessibility.

I think they should only be used on the city circle route, and only every second tram. The alternate tram should be a fully accessible low floor version complete with accessible tram stops.

Good story Graeme,as I read your story my brain kicked into gear and started designing an electric fold away platform which would take about 30 seconds from when a mother with a pram pressed the button to activate its use to when she pushed the pram inside and another 20 seconds to return to the folded position flat against the outside of the tram.Those concepts that you see in taxis are very primitive.Peter never thinks that one day he with a broken leg in plaster might think it a wonderful blessing to use the electric platform.

I have for over 10+ years wanted to see the end of these monsters on the Chapel Street run, but still think they are okay for tourist aspects.

I have alot of problems with using trams, its great that there are some tram routes using the new low level trams which i can get in but some tram routes are using the old trams which has steps i need to use a walker and i can't lift it up the steps and as well as try not to trip over the steps as well they should get rid of the old trams so people like me can use the trams more often

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