It may seem hard to believe now, but Sydney was once one of the world’s great tram cities.

Until 1961, when the last tram returned to the Randwick Workshops, there was over 300km of tram lines throughout Sydney, including an extensive network servicing the city’s east. In their heyday in the 1920s, trams ferried thousands of passengers to and from Potts Point, Kings Cross, Woolloomooloo, Rushcutters Bay, Darlinghurst and the eastern beaches every day.

The birth of Sydney’s tram network

Sydney’s first trams were horse-drawn, but in 1879, a short steam tramway was built in the city for the International Exhibition, an expo of world industries and arts. The plan was to remove it once the exhibition was over, but it proved so popular that it prompted the rapid expansion of the tram network throughout Sydney.

Steam trams were followed by cable-driven trams in 1886, and by 1890 one of Sydney’s first experimental electric tram lines was running from Waverley to Randwick.

The Watsons Bay line

The Watsons Bay line was built as a cable tramway in 1894. It started near Wynyard station and ran down William Street in Kings Cross and on to Edgecliff, Double Bay and Rose Bay. In 1905, the cable system was replaced by electric trams, and the line was extended to Vaucluse. By 1909 it reached Watsons Bay.

By the 1930s, the Kings Cross tram was the busiest in the Sydney network. On weekdays trams ran every minute, and workers from the city would come to Kings Cross by tram for lunch. William Street, crowded with trams, electric trolleybuses, cars, taxis and buses, became one of Sydney’s most notorious traffic bottlenecks.

The Rushcutters Bay Tram Depot was built in 1898 and expanded several times as the tram network grew. It housed trolleybuses, too, after they were introduced in 1934. After the Watsons Bay line was closed in 1960, the depot was demolished. Today, the former depot site on Bayswater Road is home to the Vibe Hotel.

The Woolloomooloo line

The short-lived Woolloomooloo line was opened in stages between 1915 and 1918, designed to aid troop movements to and from Woolloomooloo Wharf during the First World War. Some of the trams that ran on this line were converted to ambulance trams to transport injured soldiers from the wharf to Randwick Hospital. These ambulance trams were also used during the 1919 flu epidemic.

The Woolloomooloo extension was closed earlier than other lines in 1935 and replaced with a bus service.

The Bondi lines

The first trams that ran to Bondi in 1884 were steam trams. In 1894 the line was extended to the southern end of the beach, and since at that time, bathing at Bondi Beach was forbidden between 8am and 8pm, the early morning trams were always full of swimmers. Electric trams replaced the noisy and dusty steam trams in 1902, and the line was continued on to North Bondi in 1929. A large three-track tram terminus cut into the hillside on Campbell Parade, North Bondi is still used by buses today, and an original tram waiting shed on Bondi Road near Waverley Park is now used as a bus stop.

A second tram line to Bellevue Hill via Paddington and Birriga Road was opened in 1909 and extended to Bondi Beach in 1914. During peak hour, the express trams to Bondi didn’t stop at Paddington, and this is where the classic Australian vernacular ‘shoot through like a Bondi tram’, meaning to leave quickly, comes from. Bondi Junction takes its name from its days as the place where the tram lines going to Bronte split from the Bondi line.

The last Bondi tram ran in the early hours of Sunday, February 18, 1960, but if you keep an eye out, you might spot what’s known as a tram rosette on building facades along the old tram routes. These decorative metal rosettes were where the support wires for the overhead wiring above the tram tracks were anchored.

The Bronte line

The line to Bronte, opened in 1911, offered some of the best views in the Sydney tram network. The Bronte cutting was built above Bronte Baths to allow trams a gentle descent to the beach, and when a tram arrived from the cutting onto the clifftop above the beach, passengers enjoyed sweeping ocean views.

Although the line was closed in 1960, buses still follow the former tram route. Passengers can wait for their bus in the original tram shelter, which dates back to 1912, next to Bronte Park. The Bronte cutting is still in use too, as a narrow car park.

The Coogee and Clovelly lines

The tram line to Coogee opened in 1883, an extension of the line to Randwick Racecourse, which had opened three years earlier. It terminated in a balloon loop in Dolphin Street at the northern end of Coogee Beach, the site of which is now used as a car park. The Clovelly line, which branched off the Coogee line, opened in 1913. It closed in 1957, followed by the Coogee line in 1960.

With the opening of the Randwick and Kingsford light rail lines in 2019 and 2020, trams have returned to some parts of eastern Sydney. The new light rail lines run down Anzac Parade and Alison Road, following the same paths as the old Coogee, Clovelly, Maroubra and La Perouse tram lines.

Sydney’s east is full of rich and fascinating heritage and history, giving it the character, charm and style we know and love today. If you’re thinking of buying or selling here, contact my team today.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Article by Jason Boon

In a real estate market that is the focus of Australian, and indeed worldwide attention, Jason Boon's results in the Sydney scene make him a highly significant figure within the industry. A long-term specialist in the Potts Point and inner eastern suburbs area, he is uniquely placed to leverage his skills and local knowledge as the area undergoes significant change and diversification. Jason ha…