Welcome To Dunedin Trams


   A website dedicated to Don McAra's book,
   "Hold Very Tight Please"

   Dunedin Trams

   Restoring & Reinstating a Dunedin Tram.

  Cable cars were introduced in Dunedin by Edinburgh trained Dunedin engineer George Duncan in 1881 as the best available way in those days of transporting people to and from their hill top homes. The first line was built for the Roslyn Tramway Company and ran from Maclaggan St up Rattray St and a steep private right of way to the bottom of Ross St. The company ran a horse tram from there to what is now Columba College, and this line in 1900 was extended as New Zealandís first electric tram to Spylaw St in Maori Hill. Where cable passengers transferred to the electric cars at Robin Hood was known as the Junction. After 1936 diesel buses replaced the electric trams, and the Roslyn line, which had been extended over the hill to Fraserís Rd in Kaikorai Valley after 1900, continued in service until 1951.It had been taken over in the 1920ís by the Dunedin City Corporation.

Also in the 1880ís George Duncan engineered both the Mornington cable line for the Mornington Tramway Company and also the Maryhill Extension which ran from the terminus at the top of Eglinton Rd to Mitchell Ave. This included one of the steepest public tram routes in the world. Duncan went on to Melbourne to engineer extensive cable car routes there. Back in Dunedin in 1900 the Kaikorai Valley Tramway Company built another cable line running from the Octagon up Stuart St and extensive private rights of way to Roslyn township and over the hill to Nairn St in Kaikorai Valley. The final Dunedin line was opened in 1906 and ran from the Mornington terminus via Havelock St to a terminus in Elgin Rd. Because of technical difficulties and poor patronage it ceased in 1910. However, the Kaikorai line lasted until 1947, the Maryhill line until 1955, and the Mornington line was the last to go in 1957. The City had taken over all of those last three lines, and in time replaced them all with hill climbing trolleybuses. These had a much shorter history than the cable lines, and have been replaced in their turn by the various types of diesel buses seen today.

Wellingtonís cable car was set up in 1902 to run on reserve track pulled by surface running cables, whereas the Dunedin lines, like San Franciscoís, operated mostly on public streets and were pulled by cables running in underground conduits. A slotted rail between the running rails allowed each Dunedin tram to access or to release the conduit running cable by means of a gripper. The gripman released the cable when he wanted to stop to pick up passengers. In Wellington the cable stopped when the tram stopped, and also an extra cable was added connecting the up and down trams so that they counterbalanced each other. Wellingtonís became a funicular system, which it still is today in its modernised Swiss engineered form. Wellingtonís cable cars are well patronised, but are like buses slow to load and are in effect buses on rails.

Historically, the quick loading Dunedin cable cars were superseded because it was not realised by the city council what a valuable asset they could have become. Some councillors fought hard for retention, but the replacement of the cars had been proposed before World War 2. They were kept on only because of war time petrol restrictions, and until a replacement could be arranged and afforded. They and the tracks were badly worn and the growing use of private cars had made them redundant to the cityís needs. The city did not see itself as a tourist destination. A drive for modernisation at all costs obliterated any latent sense in the Council, population and citizens of what was worth keeping from a Heritage point of view, and so, despite the sense of loss felt by many, the cable cars of Dunedin were removed and sold off as sheds or small holiday homes. All the iron work, wheels, under gear and running rails, and the power house engines and great winding gear wheels were dismantled and sold for scrap.

What we are recommending in this website is that the original type of street running Dunedin cable car that was similar to the San Francisco cable cars still used there should be reintroduced to Dunedin today.

Such a heritage system would honour George Duncan as one of Dunedinís greatest engineers and be an attraction, and indeed a marketing brand, for tourists and other visitors now that such people are an essential part of todayís economy in the city. Moreover, by careful designing, a reconstructed cable line or lines could enable Dunedin hill citizens to leave their vehicles on the hill top and travel to town by a system that they would be proud of. It was a feature that helped and would help again to make their city truly unique. One has only to see what the central city heritage electric tram has done for Christchurch to realise how much more a heritage cable car line could do to contribute to the image of Dunedin.

Due to the efforts of a small, dedicated team of ex- Dunedinites and others at the Tramway Historical Society in Christchurch several of Dunedinís original cable cars are currently being restored to running order, and with your support, and that of Dunedin City Councillors, businesses, and entrepreneurs, these representatives of an earlier age which did so much to build the city, could once again be seen transporting visitors and citizens to points of vantage up Dunedin hills. And the Exchange, heart of an older part of Dunedin, would beat again.

Due to the efforts of a small, dedicated team of ex- Dunedinites and others at the Tramway Historical Society in Christchurch several of Dunedinís original cable cars are currently being restored to running order, and with your support, the fully worked out lease arrangements already mentioned,and the backing of Dunedin City Councillors, businesses, and entrepreneurs, these representatives of an earlier age which did so much to build the city, could once again be seen transporting visitors and citizens to points of vantage up Dunedin hills. And the Exchange, heart of an older part of Dunedin, would beat again.

Last update  Saturday, 02 August 2008 09:58 p.m.