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Horse trams in King William Street, Adelaide, before 1909. Image: Australian trams through the ages, p. 7.

H Class tram 372 at Victoria Square, which was the city terminus of the Glenelg line at the time the photo was taken, 1 October 1989.

Adelaide Tramways

David Matheson

10 November 2019

Adelaide once had an extensive tramway system. Like most other state capital cities, the network was shut down in the years following the Second World War. However, the line to Glenelg remained open and continues to operate regular services.



Horse tramways began operating in Adelaide on 10 June 1878 when a line of three miles (4.8 km) in length was opened between the city and Kensington by the Adelaide and Suburban Tramway Company Limited. The city’s flat topography made it ideal for horse tram operations, and by 1883 there were seven different operators, with lines serving the Central Business District and nearby suburbs. New lines were opened and eventually Adelaide had the largest horse tramway network in Australia, with the system extending to 74 miles (119.1 km) by 1901.


A steam tram operated between Port Adelaide and Adelaide Park from 1879 until 1882, but this service was not successful and was replaced by horse trams. A Julien Electric Accumulator Car, which was a battery-electric tram designed by Belgian engineer Edmond Julien, was trialled in Adelaide on 9 January 1889. Although it proved successful, reports were received from other locations of problems with the car. Tramways in Adelaide decided it was not worth the risk and the new technology was not adopted.


The Metropolitan Tramways Trust (MTT) was established in 1906 by the state government and took control of almost all private tramways in the city. Part of its charter was to electrify all tramways within ten kilometres of the city centre. It was estimated that the total cost of the project would be £750,000. On 9 March 1909 the first electric tram commenced running in Adelaide, between the city and Kensington. A total of 29.5 route miles (47.5 km) had been electrified by the end of July 1910, 48 route miles (77.2 km) by the end of July 1912, and 51.75 route miles (83.3 km) by July 1914. The cost of the project by July 1914 had become £1,396,638. All of the MTT lines had been electrified within five years and the last horse tram ran between Goodwood and Clarence Park on 25 June 1914. Further electric tram lines continued to be built over coming years. The electric tram network in Adelaide reached its peak in 1931. On 30 June that year there was a total of 82.8 route miles (133.3 km) open for traffic.


Tram lines in Adelaide extended from the CBD to various suburbs, including Cheltenham, Kilburn, Enfield, Walkerville, Paradise, Morialta, Kensington Gardens, Burnside, Linden Park, Glen Osmond, Springfield, Mitcham, Colonel Light Gardens, Glenelg and Henley Beach. A smaller, separate network operated in Port Adelaide, extending to Albert Park, Semaphore, Largs and Rosewater. Horse trams operated in Port Adelaide from 1882 until 1917, and then electric trams until the final closure of its lines in 1935.


The line from King William Street in the Central Business District to Glenelg was opened as a heavy railway line in 1873 by the Adelaide, Glenelg and Suburban Railway Company. In 1899 it was taken over by the South Australian Railways. It had opened as a broad (1600 mm) gauge line, but in 1929 it was converted to standard (1435 mm) gauge and reopened as a tramway.


Adelaide tramways are often associated with the H Class trams that began service in 1929. A total of 30 were built by A Pengelley & Company in Adelaide. They had seating capacity for 64 passengers and operated extensively throughout the Adelaide tramway network. H Class trams operated on the Glenelg line until 2014, but are no longer in regular service. Five have been retained for heritage operations.


Minimal maintenance during the Second World War resulted in the tramway tracks being worn and the system rundown. In 1953 the Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT) was restructured and a plan was implemented to replace trams with buses within ten years. The public had become fond of the trams and there was a campaign for them to be retained, but the government continued with its plans.


The transition to buses moved quickly and Adelaide’s tramway network closed before the end of 1958, with the exception of the Glenelg line. Although Glenelg had been threatened with closure along with the rest of the system, the line remained in use. It was likely saved because most of its route ran along a dedicated right of way that did not impede motor vehicle traffic. Apart from the Glenelg line, the Adelaide tramway network closed on the night of 22 November 1958 when tram No. 269 made the last run between Victoria Square and Cheltenham.

Recent Extensions

The Glenelg line continues to operate. Its city terminus was at Victoria Square until 14 October 2007 when it was extended 1.6 km to North Terrace. There was a large increase in passenger numbers following this extension. The line was further extended by 2.8 km to the Entertainment Centre at Hindmarsh, with an official opening on 7 March 2010 and regular services commencing on 22 March.


Further extensions were made in 2018. About one km was built along North Terrace to the East End, including three new stops: Art Gallery, University and Botanic Gardens. Additionally, a short line of 100 metres was completed north along King William Road from North Terrace to Festival Plaza, with one new stop. These extensions were opened on 13 October 2018.


Current services

Three tram routes are currently operated by Adelaide Metro:

  • Glenelg to Royal Adelaide Hospital;

  • Botanic Gardens to Entertainment Centre;

  • Glenelg to Festival Plaza.

Trams to and from Glenelg typically operate at frequencies of five minutes during peak hours and ten minutes during off peak and on weekends. Services between Botanic Gardens and Entertainment Centre typically operate every ten minutes. Glenelg to Festival Plaza services operate on weekends and special event days only, with services typically operating every 20 minutes.


Adelaide tramways are currently serviced by the Flexity Class and Citadis 302 light rail vehicles. The Flexity Classic type are three-section articulated low-floor light rail vehicles that were built by Bombardier Transportation at Bautzen in Germany. Fifteen members of the class are in service in Adelaide, and they are similar to trams operating in a number of European cities. They first entered service in 2005 and were ordered to replace some of the older H Class trams that had been in service in Adelaide since the 1920s. Each Flexity Classic tram has seating for 64 passengers. They have raised end sections with motors underneath and are low-floor throughout the remainder of the vehicle.


The Citadis 302 type are five-section articulated low-floor light rail vehicles that were designed for service in Madrid in Spain, but became surplus and were purchased by Adelaide Metro. They were built by Alstom in La Rochelle, France. They are completely low-floor vehicles and are similar to the C2 Class trams in service in Melbourne. Six entered service in late 2009 and early 2010. Another three Citadis 302 trams were later ordered by the South Australian Government. They were built in 2010 and stored in Madrid until arriving in Adelaide in late 2017, and then commencing service in 2018. The Citadis 302 trams have seating for 54 passengers.


In 2017–18 there were 9,483,606 tram passengers that boarded Adelaide Metro services.


Future Prospects

In 2015 the South Australian Government released the Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan. This document included plans for the transport network in inner, middle and outer Adelaide, as well as regional and remote South Australia. A major component of the plan was the return of an extensive Adelaide tramway network, known as AdeLINK.


A change of government in 2018 led to plans for a less extensive tramway network, extending to North Adelaide, the East End and Adelaide Central Market. Planning for these extensions has now been put on hold.


In the middle of 2019 the South Australian Government announced plans to privatise the operation of Adelaide Metro train and tram services. Although the government would still own the train, trams, tracks and stations, contracts for the operation of services would be put out to tender. Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government, Stephan Knoll, said that the new model would provide more efficient services and increased service standards for customers.


Tramway Museum, St Kilda

The Tramway Museum at St Kilda has a collection of over 20 trams, mostly from Adelaide, but also from other Australian cities. Exhibits include horse trams and electric trams. Tram rides operate over 2 km of track. The Museum is open on Sundays and most public holidays, as well as on Wednesdays during school holidays. St Kilda is approximately 30 km north of Adelaide CBD but is not serviced by public transport.



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Flexity Classic tram 110, North Terrace, Adelaide, 18 January 2017.


G type ‘Birney’ tram 303, South Australian Tramway Museum, St Kilda, Adelaide, 15 July 2009.



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