The trams that Melbourne rejected

Buying a new tram for Melbourne isn’t like buying a new car – they cost a few million dollars each, and even if you had that much money ready to spend, one can’t exactly head down to your local dealer and pick one up off the shelf. Instead, the purchase of new trams involve long and convoluted tender processes, and lots of due diligence – a process that has occasionally seen trams from other cities operate in Melbourne.

W8.959 westbound outside Flinders Street Station

Eurotram

The first example of a foreign tram on trial in Melbourne was the Bombardier manufactured Eurotram in 2003.

Train of the Metro Porto (Flexity Outlook Eurotram) at Trindade station, Porto, Portugal
Photo by Jcornelius, via Wikimedia Commons

Normally used on the Porto Metro system in Portugal, Porto tram number 018 spent a few months in Melbourne during 2003, where it spent seven days running shuttles to the Australian Open tennis, and three days transferring Grand Prix patrons to and from Albert Park.

Combino Plus

In 2007 Siemens decided to send one of their Combino Plus trams to Melbourne.

Siemens Combino Plus tram (#C007) in Almada, Portugal
Photo by Jcornelius, via Wikimedia Commons

More at home on the Metro Transportes Sul do Tejo network in the Almada and Seixal municipalities of Portugal, tram number C008 spent March to June 2007 running route 16 services, as well as running shuttles to the Grand Prix at Albert Park.

Flexity Classic

Bombardier appears to be a company keen to demonstrate their trams in Melbourne, because in 2007 they let us take a Flexity Classic for a spin.

Flexity 112 at Currie and King William Streets

However for this demonstration, the tram didn’t have far to travel – newly built tram #111 was delivered by ship to Appleton Dock then spent a few days running around the streets of Melbourne minus passengers, before being sent by road to Adelaide, where it entered service on the Glenelg Tram.

Why?

So why would a private company spend millions of dollars loading trams onto ships, and send them to Melbourne so that we can give them a test drive? The simple answer – because they wanted us to buy them!

To understand this, we need to go back to the early-2000s. Melbourne’s tram network had just been chopped in half and franchised to a pair of private operators, who were obligated under their contract with the government to purchase new low floor trams. Yarra Trams opted for Alstom Citadis trams from France, while M>Tram went for the Siemens Combino trams from Germany, leaving major tram manufacturer Bombardier on the outside.

In the years that followed, patronage on the Melbourne tram network grew, but the government didn’t have a real plan to expand the fleet – but the global rolling stock manufacturers were ready for the day when a tender for new trams arrived at their door, so tried to keep their relationship with Melbourne warm.

Eventually that day came in July 2009, when the Victorian Government called for expressions of interest for the manufacture and supply of 50 new trams. In October 2009 manufacturers Alstom and Bombardier were shortlisted to bid for the contract, based on their experience overseas and their local manufacturing capabilities, with Siemens being left on the outer.

Bombardier won the bid in September 2010 with their variant of the Flexity Swift tram, with the first E class tram finally making it onto Melbourne streets in 2013.

A few more photos

Vicsig has photos of the Eurotram in Melbourne, as well as the visiting Combino Plus.

As for the Adelaide Flexity tram running around Melbourne – photos:

While the Bombardier Eurotram also visited Sydney in 2002 – photos by Matthew Geier.

And a reverse example

Before it was delivered to Melbourne, Siemens sent a D2 class Combino tram to the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, where it was used during January 2004 on a temporary track to demonstrate the concept of light rail. Unfortunately for Siemens, the demonstration didn’t sway the city of Kaohsiung, who decide to purchase trams from Spanish firm CAF.

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6 Responses to “The trams that Melbourne rejected”

  1. andrew says:

    The brilliant thing is…

    Those trams were able to be shipped to Melbourne and be operated on our network. The gauge was the same. The wheel profile was suitable. The clearance diagram was suitable. The pantographs worked with our overhead. The power supply voltage was suitable. (Or, at least, with very minor tweaks, the trams worked.)

    That’s pretty amazing standardisation. And even more amazing because there’s no mandated international standard for this stuff. It’s basically because electric tram technology was deployed worldwide around 1900 using equipment based on similar products developed by GE and Westinghouse in the US. One hundred years later trams are still pretty interoperable.

    Oh, and don’t forget that Melbourne has exported quite a few W class trams to cities in Australia, NZ, and the US.

  2. Andrew says:

    The Combino Plus was a really nice tram and very different to the earlier Siemens rubbish we foolishly bought. I am not sure the E class are so good, grinding to a rough stop. Gold Coast Flexity 2 seemed great to me yet made by the same company.

  3. Dave says:

    Yes, it is amazing the level of interoperability given no international standard!
    Still, there are some de-facto standards, if only from the manufacturers getting economies of scale; for new builds, the closer to those standards, the lesser the customization cost.
    Even legacy networks should, I think, be aiming over time to meet these standards, eg 750v overhead, clearance, less so gauge – very expensive to change compared to some bogies!
    And it’s worth the manufacturers adhering to these, more or less; you might miss out on the first order, or the second; but you’ll never get the next order if your trams are incompatible with the other manufacturers’.

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