Confusion abounds on route 48d to Kew

Every morning a handful of route 48d trams trundle through the Melbourne CBD – but keep your wits about you, if you think they are anything like a route 48 tram without the ‘d’.

A2.272 heads east on route 48d at Collins and Spencer Street

They might start at the Victoria Harbour terminus at Docklands.

A2.274 departs Victoria Harbour with a eastbound route 48 service

And run down Collins Street.

A2.292 eastbound on route 48 at Collins and Exhibition Street

But after Spring Street they don’t turn towards Wellington Parade and Bridge Road – route 48d starts following route 109 along MacArthur Street and Victoria Parade.

A2.276 heads north on route 48d for Kew Depot at Parliament station

Until it finally arrives at Kew Depot, where route 48 and 109 finally meet again.

Dual track fans leading into Kew Depot to/from Barkers Road

So why do route 48d services mislead passengers by following Victoria Street? Yarra Trams says it is a normal practice:

But I would argue the route number is deceptive and should be changed – route 109d services also run down Collins Street, on a section of track not used by normal route 109 services.

A2.287 on route 109d to Kew Tram Depot heads east at Collins and Spencer Street

So who cares if route 48d starts down at the Docklands end of route 48, where route 109 doesn’t run – it’s far more misleading to make people think you’re going to go through Hawthorn like a normal route 48 service, but end up in Abbotsford instead!

A history of depot tram route numbers

Once upon a time trams headed for the depot were even more confusing:

The don’t show up in timetables and cannot be seen on maps.

Like the supernatural creatures after which they are named, they can be tricky to find and, on paper at least, their existence is difficult to prove.

They are Melbourne’s ghost trams, secret services that slash waiting times for passengers in the know.

They ferry passengers to a depot or another point on the network where a tram is needed. It’s just that they are unscheduled.

Adding to the mystery – or confusion – is the fact that they have their own unique route number because they service only sections of a line.

Yarra Trams says different route numbers are allocated to avoid confusion. But PTUA president Daniel Bowen said the current system was even more baffling.

“It’s good that these services run,” he said.

“But using unknown route numbers that nobody has ever heard of is not good customer service.

“If the service is running most of the distance of the main route they should just use the main route number … it doesn’t make sense to have so many trams running that no one knows about.

“They are not on signs, not on the web and just appear on the streets. If people knew about them they would recognise them and use them.”

The ‘ghost’ trams could be found all over Melbourne.

A1.239 with a route 95 service shunts at the Spencer Street crossover on La Trobe Street

But that was finally simplified in 2011 when the simpler ‘a’ and ‘d’ route number system was introduced.

New tram route numbers are being trialed for altered services and services returning to the depot, from Sunday, 28 August 2011.

Mysterious route numbers such as 81, 121, 77 and 92 are being phased out to encourage more passengers to catch them to their destination.

The so-called phantom routes do not appear on the network map or timetables. They are services that are necessary to get trams to and from depots or to reposition them on the network.

Rather than running these trams empty to their destination, they still pick up passengers providing extra trips above existing timetabled services.

The new route identification format for these services will feature their parent route number and the letter ‘a’ or ‘d’.

This format means passengers will know that the “phantom route” travels along a regular timetabled and mapped route but terminates short of the end of that route or detours for part of its journey.

The letter ‘d’ means the tram terminates at the ‘depot.’

The letter ‘a’ means the service is ‘altered’ and is not running the full length of the route.

If you see a letter after the route number, check the destination display to find out where the tram is going.

So why are trams down Collins Street towards Kew Depot assigned number 48d? Back in October 2011 I photographed one such service.

A2.292 on route 48d to Kew Depot at Collins and Swanston Street

But headed along Bridge Road.

As detailed by Hugh Waldron in his history of Kew Depot:

Route numbers rationalised with the abolition of intermediate route numbers. To replace the depot and infrequently used route numbers a and d letters were introduced. This resulted in the following Kew Depot route numbers being abolished:-

  • 28 City – Richmond replaced by 48a via Collins St. and 75a via Flinders St.
  • 29 Victoria Harbour or City to Kew Depot via Bridge Road replaced by 48d.
  • 41 Victoria Harbour – Harp Road Kew replaced by 48a
  • 42 Box Hill – Victoria Harbour replaced by 109a
  • 47 Kew Depot via Victoria Street replaced by 109d or 31d

So maybe route 48d trams where at some point changed to run via Victoria Street, but no one thought that necessitated changing the route number route 109d?


In 2009 Hugh Waldron compiled a full history of Melbourne tram route mumbers.

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8 Responses to “Confusion abounds on route 48d to Kew”

  1. Andrew says:

    That is ridiculous. I would have caught a 48d expecting to go to Bridge Road if I was out and about early enough to see one.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Route 48d does show ‘via Victoria Street’ in the loop but it’s only there 50% of the time – so misleading.

      C.3024 heads north on route 48d along Macarthur Street

      • Andrew says:

        True along with the auto announcements which no doubt say the tram is turning left, but I wouldn’t be tuned in to listen, confident that the 48d would turn right. I think C are scrolling destinations? A class aren’t and it would be easy to miss the via Victoria Street.

  2. jon says:

    Made the mistake of jumping on a 57d on Elizabeth St a few weeks ago thinking “oh well it has to at least go down Victoria St” but nope, kept going straight up towards the hospital.

  3. Karren says:

    Just imagine the confusion faced by visitors to Melbourne who aren’t aware of locations, directions or street names. I realise this is an old post, but I am from regional Victoria, got off the train at Southern Cross, and jumped on the 48d tram, assuming it would head to Epworth Hospital. Imagine my surprise when it didn’t. Luckily I had an hour up my sleeve. This should be fixed.

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