May 1964 – New Zealand farewells the tram

Last tram from Oriental Bay

Photographer unknown, Last tram from Oriental Bay, Wellington, 1950, Black and white original negative, Evening Post Collection, Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: Reference: 114/148/11-F

May 1964 – New Zealand farewells the tram

The last tram trip in New Zealand terminated at its stop near Wellington Zoo on 2 May 1964, 86 years after the service was introduced.

Wellington installed its first tramline in 1878, the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to do so. The route ran between Lambton Quay and Adelaide Road, in Newtown, and the first trams were powered by steam. This meant they were noisy to operate and created a lot of smoke and fumes, so 14 years later the tram company reverted to a much more traditional form of propulsion – horses.

The Wellington City Tramways Company was taken over by the city in 1900, and the service was modernised and expanded. The new trams ran on electricity, and in the days before a national grid, this meant a purpose-built power station had to be constructed, along with the network of overhead powerlines. By 1904 the inner city lines were ready and Wellington's first electric tram set off from its Newtown depot.

An expanding electric tram network made the development of Wellington's outer suburbs much easier. The original routes ran between Thorndon, Oriental Bay, Newtown and Berhampore. By 1907 trams were running to Brooklyn, Island Bay and Kilbirnie, and once the single-lane tunnel had been pushed through Mt Victoria, to Miramar and Seatoun as well. Four years later the lines were extended up to Karori and Wadestown, meaning that most of the city was now accessible by tram.

After half a century of efficiently transporting Wellingtonians all over their city, the tram's days were numbered. An increasing number of motorcars were vying for space on Wellington's narrow streets, and buses were considered safer and, with no tracks, much more manoeuvrable. By the late 1950s, routes were beginning to close and on 2 May 1964, with crowds of people assembled to witness the occasion, the last tram running on New Zealand city streets pulled into Newtown station.

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