One of the two Glenelg steam train services arrives in King William Street south, Adelaide (about 1908). Trams took over this service in 1929.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

to wider Adelaide metropolitan area inspired
by premier Mike Rann visit to Portland, Oregon


PORTLAND, OREGON, USA, INSPIRED ANOTHER TRANSFORMING ASPECT of Adelaide in 2007: the first new tramline to operate since most of the metropolitan network were ripped up in the 1950s.

(Among other influences, Portland was the model for South Australia’s container deposit recycling scheme.)

A visit in 2003 impressed then-premier Mike Rann with the environment and economic benefits that flowed from Portland’s trams.

His government’s $21 million decision to extend the Glenelg tramline down King William Street and North Terrace to the railway station brought the first new tram line in South Australia since the 1920s. That 1.2km track was later extended to the entertainment centre on Port Road, Hindmarsh.

The historic trams used on the Glenelg line were retained briefly before being replaced by “super" trams. These were the first Adelaide trams since in the 1930s.

In 2018, an extension of the tramline one kilometre east along North Terrace to the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site was completed after technical delays.  Added to this was a new $20 million section of tramline, north along King William Road, to the Festival Centre. This work was to ensure no interruptions to the busy North Terrace-King William Road intersection, when a possible future extension to Prospect went ahead.

The incoming state Liberal government in 2018 wasn't enthusiastic about a proposed AdeLINK tram network back into the suburbs but it allocated $37 million to allow trams to turn right from King William Street into North Terrace.



Port Pirie-Cockburn line built to capture Broken Hill's ore riches

Goolwa-to-Port Elliott horse-drawn iron line the 1854 start of South Australian railways

South Australia’s railways began with a horse-drawn railway in 1854, running between Goolwa and Port Elliot at the River Murray mouth. It was the first Australian rail track to be laid with iron. The line, later extended to safer Victor Harbor, was used to move freight between the shallow-draft paddle steamers navigating the River Murray and coastal vessels wanting to avoid the river's treacherous shallow mouth. The original line (a loop was built later) went inland from the Goolwa jetty through the town to Port Elliot jetty and breakwater. Port Elliot’s lack of shelter and shallow anchorage, with seven ships wrecked between 1853 and 1864, meant the port was moved to Victor Harbor with the rail line extended. The broad gauge line was extended north from Middleton to Strathalbyn in 1869 with a steam railway line from Adelaide to that town completed in 1884. Two horses at a time, changing at intermediate stations, continued to pull trains on the line until 1884. Records from 1875 show 29 horses travelling 7000 miles a month. The Victor Harbor-to-Adelaide rail line branched south to Wolseley at Mount Barker Junction. From 1883-85, the section to Currency Creek was rebuilt to steam railway standards. Australian National stopped carrying freight on the Victor Harbor line in 1980 and passengers in 1984, citing the track’s condition. Passenger numbers had dropped from 50,000 return journeys in 1977-78 to around 16,000 in 1982-83.

Goolwa to Victor Harbor Cockle Train keeping Australia's oldest iron railway line on track

The Cockle tourist train, running up to 140 days a year between Goolwa and Victor Harbor, keeps alive Australia’s oldest iron railway, built in 1887 to link the River Murray and the wharfs at Port Elliot and later Victor Harbor. Operated by SteamRanger Heritage Railway, the Cockle train’s name is derived from early colonial settlement days when locals took a horse-drawn train to Goolwa to collect cockles from Murray mouth beaches. The train operates along the Fleurieu Peninsula coast in school holidays, over Easter, Sundays and Wednesdays with historic locomotives or railcars. SteamRanger Heritage Railway is run by volunteers of the South Australian division of the Australian Historical Railway Society. Before 1995, SteamRanger was based at Dry Creek in Adelaide’s northern suburbs road-rail freight depot. It operated the Southern Encounter train from Adelaide railway station through the Mounty Lofty Ranges to Victor Habour, plus other special runs on broad gauge to places such as Burra and Nuriootpa. With the country rail network shutdown and the Adelaide-Wolseley section of the Adelaide-Melbourne line converted to standard gauge in 1995, the broad-gauge line between Mount Barker Junction and Victor Harbor was left isolated. The Mount Barker Junction-Strathalbyn section in 1989 was renewed with state government funding and SteamRanger services resumed with its volunteers maintaining its trains and rail line.

Victor Harbor to Granite Island horse-drawn tram service from 1894 revived for 1986 150th

Australia's last horse-drawn trams, linking Granite Island to Victor Harbor, were revived in 1986 to mark South Australia’s 150th year. The original horse-drawn tramway operated on a 630m causeway between 1894 and 1956. When the South Australia Railways' first iron line, from Goolwa, reached Victor Harbor in 1864, a pier was built next to the railway station. This pier was extended with a rail track continuing around the island to a new jetty.  Although railway freight vehicles were routinely pulled by horses, a passenger service didn’t start until 1894 when the South Australian Railways decided to use a surplus double-deck horse-drawn tram to carry increasing visitors to the island. In the 1900s, George Honeyman and then his brother Frank, from 1940, took over running the line. In 1955, because the £3,000 needed wasn’t available, the Granite Island pier was rebuilt without rails. The tram service continued only on Granite Island until 1956, when the tram cars were sold off. Between 1956 and 1986, two trailers, towed by a tractor and later a Land Rover clad to look like the outline of a stream locomotive, carried only 16 passengers. As a successful South Australia 150th jubilee-funded project, four replica double-decker tram cars, each for 52 passengers. Tracks were relaid (on the 5 feet 3 inches broad gauge) and the service restarted in 1986. About 100,000 people each year use this rare daily horse-drawn public tram service. 

First steam train to Port Adelaide 1856 on first government-run rail line in the British empire

South Australia’s first steam train was introduced in 1856 between Adelaide and Port Adelaide. It was the first government-built and -owned steam railway in the British empire. The line from Adelaide ran directly to Port Dock station, now site of the National Railway Museum. Lines continued through Port Adelaide’s streets to the wharves and, from 1878, along St Vincent Street to the seaside town of Semaphore. Congestion at Port Dock station and train delays in the Port centre resulted in a viaduct and bridge across the Port River in 1916. This diverted trains to Semaphore and Outer Harbor via a new large station named Commercial Road on the Outer Harbor line. It quickly took over from Port Dock as the town’s main railway station. As rail traffic dropped in the 1960s-70s, Commercial Road station’s roof was removed, platforms shortened and the street level station buildings rebuilt. The ticket office closed in 1979. When Port Dock station closed in 1981, Commercial Road station was renamed Port Adelaide. In 2009, the station and viaduct were refurbished. The tracks through Port Adelaide station were dual gauge – both broad and standard. This allowed freight traffic from Dry Creek, via the Rosewater loop, to access industries on Lefevre Peninsula and the container terminal at Pelican Point. In 2008, freight traffic was diverted via the Mary Mackillop Bridge downstream of the Port Adelaide harbour. 


Two train services to Glenelg from 1880s as other lines built out into the Adelaide suburbs

Among 19th Century rail lines built out through the suburbs, two train services linked Adelaide city and Glenelg from the 1880s until 1927. In the 1870s, the government approved Adelaide and Suburban Railway Company opening a line (on the present tram route) from Glenelg to South Terrace and later Victoria Square. Ten years later, Holdfast Bay Railway Company started a competing line from North Terrace to Glenelg. With profits hit, in 1882, they merged as Glenelg Railway Company. The two Glenelg trains were taken over by the government’s Municipal Tramways Trust in 1927. Throughout 1928-1929, the South Terrace train line was electrified as Adelaide-Glenelg tramway. The North Terrace train line closed in 1929 and was expected to be electrified but this never happened.  Today’s Gawler Central suburban line opened to Smithfield in 1857 and was extended to the copper mining towns of Kapunda (1860) and Burra (1870). Adelaide to Bridgewater rail line was built in 1883 but Belair to Bridgwater closed in 1987. Woodville to Grange, an offshoot of the Port Adelaide line, came in 1882 with Grange to Henley Beach built in 1894 but dismantled in 1957. Goodwood-to-Marino line in 1913 was extended to Hallett Cove in 1915, to Christie Downs in 1976, to Noarlunga Centre in 1978 and to Seaford in 2014. Woodlands Park-to-Tonsley, an offshoot of Adelaide-to-Seaford, was opened in 1966 but, since the 1950s,  six lines have closured.

Port Pirie-to-Cockburn line most significant of 19th Century South Australian rail links

Mining and agriculture pushed the colony’s government, with its South Australian Railways corporation formed in 1854, to build lines from Adelaide into country areas. By 1860, a railway had been built to Kapunda where copper was first discovered in 1843 and it became the colony’s biggest wheat receiving station. A line branching off at Roseworthy was completed in 1870 to serve mines at Burra. The Kapunda line was pushed through to Morgan to capture Murray River paddle steamer trade. This affected the need for the Goolwa-to-Victor Harbor line. Early short lines such as Port Broughton-Mundoora (horse drawn), Port Pirie-Crystal Brook and Port Wakefield-Balaklava were built to the nearest port. During the 1880s, the system was centralised and all lines, except for Eyre Peninsula, linked to Adelaide. To serve mining and pastoral needs, the Great Northern Railway was built from Port Augusta to Quorn in 1879, reaching Marree (1883) and Oodnadatta (1891). The Port Pirie-to-Cockburn line, completed in 1886, was a great South Australian Railways achievement. It transported ore from Broken Hill mines to the Port Pirie smelter and opened the vast northeast of the colony.  A line through the Adelaide Hills opened to Aldgate in 1883 and extended to Nairne (1883) and Bordertown (1886). In 1887, the Adelaide-Melbourne Intercolonial Express was the first inter-capital journey without a change of trains at a break-of-gauge station.


South Australia deals with broad, narrow, standard rail widths

South Australia swaps from broad gauge to cheaper narrow gauge and then back to broad

South Australia became the epicentre of the Australia’s problem with three railway line gauge three sizes: broad, narrow and standard. South Australia, and especially places like Port Pirie, had lines with the three different gauges in the early 20th Century. The Irish broad gauge was initially adopted by South Australia and most states exceptNew South Wales with the standard gauge. But South Australia had created its own disconnect by making a 19th Century a switch from broad to narrow gauges. 

Terowie among the break-of-gauge stations to mend disconnect between broad, narrow

The 1880s South Australian plan to link Broken Hill Proprietary lead smelters at Port Pirie with ore from Broken Hill. The New South Wales government blocked South Australian Railways extending a narrow gauge rail link across its border. In response, the private Silverton Tramway Company built a 56km link between Cockburn in South Australia to Broken Hill from 1888. It became the busiest train line in the world in 1911-14, with 102 trains passing through Peterborough within 24 hours during 1926.

Federal railways bring the standard gauge into the South Australian system from 1917

Federal government’s involvement in railways, using standard gauge lines, forced South Australia to standardise its main lines to be part of national freight movement. The first big federal foray was the trans-Australia Port Augusta-Kalgoorlie line in 1917. This gave South Australia three gauges. South Australian and Commonwealth railways linked Port Augusta and Adelaide, by a standard gauge to Port Pirie, and a broad gauge between Port Pirie and Redhill, in 1937.  


Adelaide-Melbourne in 1995 completes the standard links for all mainland capital cities

A traveller going by rail from Sydney to Perth in 1912 had to change train six times. The problem with incompatible track gauges for interstate rail services was not completely fixed by a standard gauge until 1995. The arrow gauge line from Marree to Alice Springs was finally replaced in 1980 by a new standard gauge route. 
The broad gauge between Adelaide and Port Pirie became standard gauge in 1982, followed by Adelaide and Melbourne being converted from broad to standard in 1995.


from ailing to the nation's best before effect of road freight hits 

American William Webb turns decayed South Australian rail system into Australia's best

William Alfred Webb, an American appointed as railways commissioner in 1922, in seven years brought the South Australian Railways system back from brink of collapse to being the best in Australia. Webb arrived from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway with a record of achievements on other rail systems in the USA. South Australia's railways system, unchanged from the 19th Century, had decayed from lack of maintenance. Its small locomotives and wooden rolling stock, tracks and bridges, were incapable of carrying heavy loads. Revenue had been hit by mine closures and the cost of World War I. Webb introduced a rehabilitation based on American railroad principles of large standardised locomotives and steel bodied freight wagons, with automatic couplers to significantly increase productivity. Lightly patronised passenger trains were replaced by self-propelled rail cars, enabling faster, more frequent and more efficient services.


William Webb brings in big locomotives, modernises systems, Islington workshops

William Webb’s era of big power arrived in 1926 when two 500 class “Mountain” locomotives – the strongest in Australia – were unloaded at Port Adelaide. Within 10 years, a fleet of large modern locomotives had been imported or built at the South Australian Railways’ modernised Islington Workshops. Webb's program also included larger freight vehicles, new and stronger bridges, diesel railcars, duplicated tracks and modern depots. Converting narrow gauge lines to broad gauge began. 

Grand new Adelaide Railway Station an expensive monument to the dynamic Webb

Adelaide Railway Station on North Terrace  is a monument to the dynamic era for South Australian Railways under commissioner  William Alfred Webb. The building, designed by Adelaide architects Garlick and Jackman, was completed in 1928. The sandstone neo-classical building housed the railways administration. The concourse catered for long-distance travellers and commuters with a dining room, hairdressers and refreshment rooms. The domed marble hall served as a grand  waiting room 

South Australian rail lapses after Webb goes while road freight and cars take their toll

With William Webb’s in 1930 departure, the old hierarchy returned to the South Australian Railways and dismantled his reforms. But railways were struggling against other forced eroding their freight and passenger numbers. In the 1930s, the government stemmed one threat to railways through the Road and Railways Transport Act that imposed costs on road transport freight carriers. That act was repealed in 1963. Meanwhile, cars were cutting the number of passengers using trains.


private firms running interstate freight and passengers trains

Adelaide Metro's six suburban lines the only state government links now to railways

Adelaide’s suburban network of train services – Belair, Gawler, Grange, Outer Harbor, Seaford and Tonsely – is now the one operated by the state government. The network, run by the transport, planning and infrastructure department through Adelaide Metro, has 81 stations. Only the Seaford and Tonsely lines (with Gawler next) are electrified, leaving Adelaide as the last of Australia’s five major capital cities to be converted. In the leadup to South Australian Railways being sold as an entity to the federal government’s Australian National in 1978, country services operating from Adelaide were lost, including: Bute-Moonta, Port Pirie Junction, Hamley Bridge-Balaklava, Blyth-Wilmington,  Riverton-Terowie, Kapunda-Robertstown, Nuriootpa-Truro, Murray Bridge-Wailerie, Naracoorte, Kingston SE, Mount-Barker-Milang, Morphett Vale-Willunga. Australia National’s longer-distance trains continued to use Adelaide station for several years until its Keswick passenger terminal opened in 1984.  Adelaide station, now only serving suburban trains, saw big changes in 1985-87 with the Adelaide Station and Environs Redevelopment (ASER) refurbishing much of its exterior and converting the interior to a casino, building the-then Hyatt Regency hotel over its northern end and removing platforms 12 and 13. The track layout in the station yard was modified with new signals in 1987-88 with a new control centre overlooking the railcar depot and station. The railcar depot was moved to Dry Creek in 2008 to make way for the new Royal Adelaide Hospital and the signal controls also moved to Dry Creek in 2018.

Federal corporation owns tracks used by interstate freight and passenger carriers

The Australian Rail Track Corporation, an agency of the Australian federal government, owns standard gauge interstate lines heading north and south, together with the dual-gauge freight-only branch from Dry Creek to Port Adelaide and Pelican Point. Freight trains are operated by private operators. Pacific National handles most of interstate traffic and has the largest locomotive fleet. Great Southern Rail is a private company operating the long-distance passenger trains. 


The Ghan, Overland, Indian Pacific salute South Australia's past role in national rail

Great Southern Rail operates the three major interstate trains – The Ghan to Alice Springs and Darwin, The Overland to Melbourne, the Indian Pacific to Sydney and Perth – through the Parklands Railway Terminal at Keswick. Today, The Ghan goes on to Darwin on a track completed in 2004. When South Australia administered the Northern Territory in the 19th Century, it financed the original North Australia Railway on a narrow gauge from Palmerston (now Darwin) to Pine Creek, opened in 1889.

SteamRanger, Pichi Richi and Semaphore tourist railways kept on line by volunteers

The SteamRanger and Pichi Richi are the main tourist railways in South Australia, with a smaller Semaphore and Fort Glanville railway run by the National Rail Museum at Port Adelaide. SteamRanger operates heritage steam and diesel tourist trains on the broad gauge between Mount Barker and Victor Harbor, plus the Cockle Train Experience. Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society volunteers keep heritage trains active on the old Ghan track between Quorn and Port Augusta. 


electric tram network restricted by competition, war, Depression

Adelaide horse trams first in Australia and run by private firms from the 1870s

Adelaide was the first Australian city to have horse trams and the last to discard them. South Australia’s first horse tram was used in 1855 on the Goolwa-Port Elliot rail line but the wider impetus came in the 1870s when Edwin Smith and William Buik, both later mayors of Adelaide, inspected tramways in Europe. Back in Adelaide, they promoted the concept leading to the Adelaide and Suburban Tramway Co.. The South Australian government passed an act in 1876 for a horse tram network.


State government buys all horse-tram assets and forms MTT to run electric tram network

By 1901, Adelaide’s horse trams were a blot on the city. Too slow and small for a population of 162,000, the horse trams needed unsealed roads that were either quagmires or dustbowls where each horse left 10 pounds of manure daily. When private scheme for electric trams fell through, the state government in 1906 announced its takeover of all the horse tramways for £280,000. It created the Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT) with the authority to build new electric tramways.


William Goodman sees tram network grow up but keep struggling with a lack of resources

William George Toop (“W.T.G.”) Goodman was appointed as the new Municipal Tramways Trust’s first engineer and soon after its general manager where he remained until he retired in 1950. At the MTT’s 1909 opening, 35 miles (56 kilometres) of track had been completed with electricity supplied by the Electric Lighting and Supply Co.. The tram network struggled with competition from private buses, growing car ownership aand the effects of World War I and the Depression.

Converted tramway to Glenelg in 1929 replaces the two train services from the 19th Century

The South Australian government in 1924 accepted railways commissioner William Webb’s proposal that the two 19th Century Glenelg railways be given to the Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT) and be concerted from steam railways to electric tramways. The state government bought both railways and the Glenelg railway line (now the Glenelg tram route) was converted from broad to standard gauge and electrified for trams to run in 1929. Tram plans for the other Holdfast Bay train route lapsed. 


with Glenelg line and Type H trams left as only gallant survivors

Local Type A trams the early vanguard of 300 commissioned by MTT from 1909 to 1953

Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT) first 100 trams in 1908-09 had their bodies made at £100 each by Adelaide company Duncan and Fraser who had built horse tram cars for the Adelaide and Suburban Tramway as well as bodies for Melbourne electric trams. Up to its last purchase in 1953, the MTT commissioned more than 300 trams, some in service for 75 years. Type A trams made up 70 of the initial 100 trams. The types of trams ­– A, A1, A2, B, C, D, E, E1, F, F1, H, H1 – ­ varied over the years

MTT recruits trolley buses as competition mounts and finances hit by the Depression

From 1915, the Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT) had to compete against unregulated private buses that often travelled ahead of the trams on the same route to steal fares. The MTT countered by opening its own motor bus routes from 1925. During the Depression, the MTT needed to expand services but lack of finance prevented laying new tracks.  After running experimentally on the Payneham to Paradise tram line off-peak in 1932, trolley buses were put into wider service in 1937.

End of the line for the tram network in 1958 as MTT faces big losses and royal commission

In 1945, the Municipal Tramways Trust was collecting fares for 95 million trips annually, representing 295 trips per head of population. But in 1951-52, the MTT lost £313,320 and it decided to convert the Erindale, Burnside and Linden Park lines to electric trolleybuses. The last trams ran in 1952 on these lines that were pulled out in 1953. The network ended in 1958.  Except for the Glenelg Type H, all trams were sold or scrapped. Some were used as shacks, playrooms or preserved by museums. 


Adelaide-built H Type trams great survivors on Glenelg line until Classics arrive in 2006

The H Type trams built by A. Pengelly & Co. in Adelaide in 1929 for Glenelg line survived to become the oldest passenger trams in Australia until they were replaced by Bombadier Flexity Classics in 2006. The second-longest trams ever built, the 30 H Types were also used on the Henley North, Cheltenham and Kensington Gardens lines. The H Type regularly ran as double sets. All services were operated by a driver and conductor (driver and two conductors on coupled sets).



but tram network plan halted; electrified train lines in slowdown

Lone Glenelg tram line extended in 2007 but plans for ADELink to the suburbs on hold

The Glenelg line remained Adelaide’s only tramway from 1958 until 2007 when it was extended from Victoria Square in the city to North Terrace and onto the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on Port Road, Hindmarsh, in 2009. Extensions to the Adelaide Festival Centre/Oval from King William Street and from Adelaide Railway Station down North Terrace to the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site were added in 2018. But the Liberal government elected in 2018 put plans for a wider AdeLINK suburban tram network on hold.

Gawler Central joining Seaford, Tonsley in being electrified but lagging nationally

Work on the Gawler Central line started in 2018 to make it the third, with the Tonsley and Seaford services, to be electrified on Adelaide suburban train network. Until 2014, this network was the only one in Australia to operate solely with diesel railcars. Since then, the Seaford and Tonsley lines have been electrified. In 2018, it was announced is that a one-kilometre spur line and Port Dock station project will return train services to the centre of Port Adelaide after almost 30 years

Adelaide Metro the successor to MTT, STA, TransAdelaide in integrating system

Adelaide Metro, part of the state government department of planning, transport and infrastructure, now runs Adelaide’s public transport that integrates trams and trains with buses. It follows the State Transport Authority (STA), formed in 1974, combining the metropolitan rail operations of the former South Australian Railways Commission with the trams and buses of the Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT). In 1994, government public transport was transferred to TransAdelaide.


Goodwood-Torrens Rail Junction work important for freight flow through Adelaide

The Goodwood and Torrens Rail Junction Project, completed in 2018, significantly increased productivity on the Melbourne-Adelaide-Perth rail line. It also cut delays at level crossings and upgraded cycling/pedestrian links. in metropolitan Adelaide. Stage One delivered the Goodwood Rail Junction and Adelaide Showgrounds station. Torrens Rail Junction lowered Outer Harbor suburban train line below the interstate line, enabling 20% larger freight trains between Adelaide and Melbourne.



backed by revivals of big train days at Peterborough and Quorn

National Railways Museum at Port Adelaide grows into Australia's biggest

The National Railway Museum at Port Adelaide is Australia’s largest with more than 100 exhibits, mostly from the Commonwealth and South Australian railways. Commonwealth and private railway operators on the three major rail gauges in Australia, the museum also shows signalling and telecommunications equipment, track gear and maintenance vehicles. The museum has historic buildings including the South Australian Railways Callington shelter shed and booking office.

Peterborough, Quorn, Terowie carry legacy of halcyon days of South Australian railways

Peterborough’s Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre keeps alive the memory of the town’s was once major trains activity where more than 100 steam locomotives passed through each day on their way to all parts of Australia. At nearby Quorn, the Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society of volunteers presents living railway history with its railway journeys through Pichi Richi Pass. Terowie is a ghost-town memorial to when it was a huge hub for trans-shipping goods from broad to narrow gauge


Islington workshops a reminder of industrial powerhouse days as locomotives builder

Six surviving historic buildings from the former railway workshops at Islington in Adelaide’s northern suburbs are listed on the South Australian Heritage Register.
Established in 1883, they were the chief railway workshops of the South Australian Railways. As part of William Webb’s revitalising of the railways, the workshops were expanded in the 1920s and employed more than 1700. During World War II, 6000 were employed at the workshops involved in building armoured vehicles and gun carriers.

St Kilda museum a record of every tram type that ran on Adelaide's big network

The Tramway Museum at St Kilda features every type of tram than ran on Adelaide's metropolitan tram network from 1878 to the mid 1950s when it had 24 lines servicing the suburbs. The museum was built by the Australian Electric Traction Association in 1974. Its collection includes several Adelaide-built Melbourne trams, two Adelaide horse trams and four electric trolley buses, including Australia’s first. It has tram rides between the museum and the St Kilda Adventure Playground.


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