Rise of the Phoenix Trams

Brisbane awoke on 29 September 1962 to news of a terrible fire that would cause transport chaos in the days ahead and would be the beginning of the demise of the tram in Brisbane.

On the night before, one of Brisbane’s fiercest-ever fires blazed inside the Paddington Tram Depot, destroying the building and 67 trams. The sudden loss of almost one-fifth of the city’s trams caused damage to Brisbane’s urban transport network.

From the ashes, any possible spare parts were rescued from the debris in the ruins of the Paddington Tram Depot. Tram specialists sourced what extra parts they needed and built eight trams to replace those that were lost. These trams were embellished with an insignia showing a mythical bird rising from the ashes of its own funeral pyre. Known as Phoenix trams, the first one took flight in 1964.

Sketches of a phoenix for the front of the new trams
Drawings of Phoenix for the construction of eight new tramcars, c.1963; ITM2818

However, Mayor Clem Jones believed that buses were a better solution to a growing urban population’s public transport needs. He introduced buses as the new mode of transport in Brisbane, sealing the fate of the remaining trams.

The last Brisbane trams ran on 13 April 1969. Over 70,000 people traveled on trams that day. There were reminiscences, sadness, parties, placards and, it is said, near riots at various points of the tramway network.

It is still possible to ride upon a tram at the Brisbane Tramway Museum at Ferny Grove, where you can climb aboard one of the original 15½ tonne Phoenix trams.

Phoenix trams on display at the Tramway Museum
Phoenix Tram on display at the Tramway Museum Ferny Grove, 1998; ITM1916576

The legacy of Brisbane’s Tram

The now defunct tram network is considered a lost part of Brisbane’s identity. 18 different tram routes were established throughout the network’s lifetime, connecting most corners of Brisbane and proving popular among residents. Between 1944–45 alone, almost 160 million passengers were carried across Brisbane.

Traffic at Northern end of Victoria Bridge, Brisbane including cars and trams, 1940: ITM1821054

Everywhere from Stafford and Toowong to Coorparoo and Mt Gravatt were covered by the more than 199km of tram track. It’s been more than 50 years since the closure of the Tramway but even today, Brisbane is full of reminders of our trams. You can find old tracks poking through bitumen, tram stops along the roads and rosettes still adorning buildings in the Brisbane CBD.

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

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