The view out the front window

When I was a kid, I liked to kneel on the front seat of the (W-class) tram, looking out the front, and watching the driver, trying to figure out how it all worked.

I reckon the front still gives you the best views.

View out the front of a W-class tram; Latrobe Street

Back in the day I recall a control to apply the power, another to brake, with a big wheel as the backup brake (akin to a handbrake I suppose — I was once on a tram whose main brake had failed, and we rolled slowly up Carlisle Street, with the wheel being used to bring us to a halt at every stop).

Many trams didn’t have doors, but those that did had an extra lever to open and close them. These days there are various other newer controls in the cab.

W-class tram controls

W-class trams

I love W-class trams. They truly are an icon of the city. In my youth I fondly remember watching the road ahead from the seat just behind (and to the left) of the driver, as we rolled up and down the hills on Balaclava Road. Or hot summers in the seat next to the (open) door, the cool breeze on my face — preferably wooden seats, as the vinyl ones got horribly sweaty.

Or the tiny pleasure (now impossible) of stepping out of the door, onto the running board, and onto the street as the tram was still slowing to a stop.

But a number of questions spring to mind following the Liberals’ pledge to keep and upgrade more W-class trams for regular route service.

What about accessibility? So far there seems to be no mention of this. It’s not unsurmountable — some US cities have high-level platforms that work with heritage W-class trams, though it’s unclear how this would work with low-floor trams on the same route. Something has to be done to meet Disability Discrimination Act requirements. Level boarding also helps others, including parents with prams, and speeds up boarding generally.

Will they manage to lift the 35 kmh speed limit? If not, it’s going to result in slower trips, and quite possibly worsened traffic congestion. Sure, many inner-city streets are slow anyway due to the amount of traffic, but part of keeping trams to time is having good acceleration and being able to reach something approaching the speed limit on those streets (since traffic tends to bank up behind trams; less so in front of them).

Having these trams only outside peak effectively means the whole fleet will need to be much bigger than otherwise required. What are the implications for operations (during swap times; complicated) and depot space? The latter is becoming a problem, and in fact the latest government funding for new trams includes a lot of money for expanded depot capacity.

Capacity will also be an issue on some routes; a W has more seats than a Citadis or 3-section Combino tram, but holds a lot less people because it has less standing room. Steps rather than level boarding is also likely to result in longer boarding times, further slowing down those routes.

Air conditioning always comes up as a topic for discussion on older vehicles, especially as we approach summer. I suspect they are simply not capable of being upgraded for it.

Finally, the pledge is for just $8 million of funding. There’s about 200 trams in Newport Workshops; it’s hard to see that $8 million is going to go very far at all.

So there’s a lot of unanswered questions.