Christchurch, New Zealand

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Christchurch Tramways' Melbourne car number 244 passes through the galleria at Cathedral Junction. Photo by Peter Ehrlich, May 2005.

Christchurch Tramway

Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand's South Island, with a population of about 200,000. It developed a tramway system in the late 19th Century with horse cars and steam trams, and electrified in 1905, ultimately becoming the largest tram system on the South Island. The earliest cars were of the "California" type similar to San Francisco's cable cars and early trams favored by many Down Under systems, but eventually cars with drop centers and fully-enclosed trams came into vogue. Christchurch even had a few double decker trams, and nearly all trams hauled trailers, as well.

Trolley buses entered Christchurch's transport picture in 1930. By 1954, the last trams rattled along Colombo Street, the city's main street, and in 1956, the trolley bus system also disappered.

Enter the Christchurch City Council and the Christchurch Tramway. The city has already preserved much of its historic architectural and cultural heritage while moving forward to becoming a modern city. In the late 1980s the idea of reinstalling a heritage tram line gained favor, and the end result was a new 2.5 kilometer circle route linking most of this city's cultural and pastoral attractions. In February 1995, the first new historic tram system since Memphis opened in 1993 began operations, with three historic trams taking to the streets, cheered on by the townsfolk. The route was quite thrifty to build, utilizing much used rail from New Zealand Railways, for instance. A barn was constructed just off Worcester Street near Cathedral Junction, housing 7 vehicles.

The tram route does a clockwise loop. It begins in historic Cathedral Square, anchored by the Anglican Church. It heads north along Worcester Street, crossing the Avon River and rolling past the new Art Museum and the historic Arts Center to Rolleston Avenue, where it turns right to run two blocks past the Christ College Museum and the entrance to Hagley Park. Then the line turns right again to serve Armagh Street, passing Cranmer Square, a casino and Victoria Square, a park at Colombo Street. One block further, the tram makes a right into New Regent Street with its quaint row of stores and boutiques, crosses Gloucester Street and heads into Cathedral Junction, a galleria. Here, the tram will turn right one more time, emerging from the restored Quest Hotel fa�ade and will head back to Cathedral Square. A track to the nearby carbarn at Cathedral Junction branches off here.

The current fleet consists of two original Christchurch trams and cars from Dunedin (South Island, New Zealand) and Melbourne. Christchurch 152 is a J. Boon product, locally built in 1911, and is a double-truck, drop-center car. Christchurch 178 was built in 1921 by Boon (but called a "Brill"), and is a double-truck single-ended car operated by one man. Dunedin 11 is a single-trucker built by J. G. Brill of Philadelphia in 1903, and was restored in 1974. Rounding out the fleet is Melbourne W2 244, built by the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board in 1925. With the exception of the Melbourne car, which was restored by the Sydney Tramway Museum, all of the cars have been restored by the nearby Ferrymead Tramway Museum and its operator, the Tramway Historical Society (see below), and are leased to the Christchurch City Council for operation by the Tramway. As an aside, #178 was the first to be made completely operational, which occurred in 1970 following a 3-year restoration.

In addition, there are two trailers used for occasional service, as trailer operation was a Christchurch feature right up to the end of service in 1954. They are Christchurch trailer 115, built 1906 by local builder J. Boon, and 1883-vintage Dunedin horse car 18, rebuilt as a trailer by Ferrymead in 1994. The trailers are often used during the summer months.

Finally, there is ex-Melbourne W2 restaurant tram 411. This car was also restored by the Sydney Tramway Museum and provides rolling dinner service for a maximum of 36 diner-riders. The tram can also be chartered for group breakfast and luncheon parties. Usually, #411 operates every evening.

Although Ferrymead can make other trams available, at this time there are no plans to add to the fleet.

Trams operate daily at 8-minute headways beginning at 9:00am. During summer months (October-March), service continues to 9:00pm; in winter, service ends at 6:00pm. In either case, the last tram of the day leaves Cathedral Square at 30 minutes past the hour before turning into the barn. Fares are NZ$12.50 for a 2-day pass which allows unlimited riding.

The tram crews announce all of the main attractions along the route and provide witty anecdotes about the city's history. One unusual feature of Christchurch trams (and continuing with its replacement buses) is the placement of hooks on the front ends, to carry baby strollers (called "Prams On Trams"). Many of the pictures in this collection depict such use.

A visit to the Christchurch Tramway is a necessary stop for any student of transportation systems.

Ferrymead Tramway Museum

The Ferrymead Tramway Museum is located along the shoreline, about a 15-minute drive east of Christchurch. It is here where the plan to return city trams to Christchurch all began. First meetings to formulate the Tramway Historical Society started in 1960, and by 1967 was well on its way toward acquiring land and cars to restore. The Ferrymead Museum is part of the Ferrymead Heritage Museum, which contains restored dwellings and shops and an automotive museum--similar in concept to the Kelley Park Heritage Museum in San Jose.

Christchurch "Brill" one-man car 178 was the first car to be restored and made operational, which occurred in 1974. It had been a "holiday cottage" before acquisition by the Society. Carbodies from other South Island tramway systems in Dunedin and Invercargill (the latter the southernmost tramway system in the world) as well as Christchurch, started arriving at the Museum for restoration. Trucks, wheels and replacement electrical components came in from all corners of the world. When the Christchurch Tramway opened in 1995, 178, Christchurch 152 and Dunedin 11 were all ready for transport into the city for operations on their new home system.

In addition to the two Christchurch trams and Dunedin single-trucker now in Christchurch, Ferrymead has a number of beautifully restored and operational cars of its own, including Christchurch 1, a "California Type" tram and the very first electric streetcar for that city, built by J. Stephenson of New York in 1905; Dunedin Brill 22, a 1903 Brill product; and Brisbane "Droppy" 236, a hand brake car (the controller has a dynamic brake built-in) built by Meadowbank, Sydney in 1925. Among the many trams under restoration is Christchurch 26, one of the very few double-deck trams built for Down Under. #26 was also built by Stephenson in 1905, but its top deck had been removed by 1918. It is being re-outfitted as a true double-decker.

The trackage of the Ferrymead Tramway Museum, about 2 kilometers in total length, begins at the shop buildings, which include a transfer table, or traverser (from the original Christchurch system), and then skirts the estuary, until it reaches the grounds of the Ferrymead Heritage Museum, which it circles in a clockwise fashion. There are two double-track sections, one at the Heritage Museum with center poles rescued from Christchurch, and the other, near the shops, containing line poles salvaged from Melbourne's William Street after trackage there was rebuilt. Trams run on weekends at all times during the year. There is even a historic operating trolleybus system with historic trolley coaches from all over New Zealand as old as 1930 in its collection. This one, plus three museums in the U. K, and the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL (northwest of Chicago), are the only known examples of combined tramway/trolleybus museums in the world.

Photo Gallery

Five Random Images

Image 39883

(184k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Armagh/Colombo Streets

Image 39892

(140k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Cathedral Square

Image 39900

(171k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Cathedral Junction

Image 39924

(193k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Ferrymead Museum Carbarn

Image 50373

(258k, 1024x826)
Photo by: Herman R. Silbiger

More Images: 1-50 51-94


Official Site -- Christchurch Tramway

Ferrymead Museum

Page Credits

By Peter Ehrlich.

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