I originally published this piece on Suite101 in December 2009. I’ve long since stopped contributing to that site and when I tried to access this post today I found it difficult to retrieve. Consequently I’m reposting it here. Trams once provided transport throughout the world. Very few remain in public use.
On 2 May 1964, a large crowd gathered in Wellington, New Zealand, to witness the last public transport journey of an electric tram in New Zealand.
By 1964 trams had been phased out in all New Zealand cities but Wellington. It was fitting that Wellington should have been the location of New Zealand’s last electric tram, as the city had been the first in the southern hemisphere to introduce a steam tram service in 1878. These were replaced with electric trams in 1904. After 60 years of serving the capital city, the time arrived for the final tram’s last run. People were sad to see the trams go and lined the Wellington streets to farewell a familiar friend.
The Last Tram
It was a festive occasion. Two other trams Nos 250 and 251, led the procession. Decorated in red, white and blue they made their farewell journey through the city streets. People clambered on board, eager to be part of the historic day by taking their last ride. Others were content to watch.
The last trip traveled from Parliament Buildings, near the Railway Station, to the Newtown Tram Shed. In the minutes before departure, the assembled crowds listened to the Onslow Silver Band play ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Tram 252, decorated with black and gold, Wellington’s colors, had a sign above the driver’s window, reading ‘NZ’s Last Tram, End of the Line’. Flags fluttered at the front and from the roof of the tram.
With Wellington’s Mayor, Frank Kitts, in the drivers seat, the bell clanged for the last time, the conductor yelled ‘Fares please’ and away the tram trundled on its final journey.
The Reason for The Service Being Discontinued
When electric trams first started servicing the country, cars were almost unheard of on the roads. As more and more people started owning cars, city traffic became busier. The slow trams became a hazard in the narrow streets as car drivers became impatient to get places more quickly. Buses were considered safer and easier to manoeuvre, and were gradually introduced in readiness for the closing of the tram service.
Final Destination of Wellington Trams
Some of the old Wellington trams now live at the Wellington Tramway Museum, Queen Elizabeth Park, Paekakariki, a short drive north of Wellington. There, people are still able to take nostalgic rides.
Tram No 252, the last tram to run through New Zealand streets, sits in storage at Motat, Museum of Transport and Technology, in Auckland, where it awaits major restoration.
Trams served their communities faithfully for many years in New Zealand, until they were discontinued because of progress. In Christchurch restored trams now offer rides through the city centre.