Prison tram 948 in service. Source: Wikimedia Commons. This image is of Australian origin and is now in the public domain because its term of copyright has expired.
Sydney prison tramcar 948, Sydney Tramway Museum, Loftus, 31 December 2008.
Prison Tram 948
19 February 2019
Prison tram 948 is an unusual exhibit at the Sydney Tramway Museum at Loftus. No. 948 carried prisoners between Sydney’s Darlinghurst Police Station, Darlinghurst Courthouse and Long Bay Gaol.
Introduction and General Service
No. 948 was built at the tramway workshops at Randwick and entered service on 4 September 1909. It has a side corridor leading to six compartments, each with a capacity for six prisoners. The compartments have a sliding door, with windows on the corridor side only. Two of the compartments were typically set aside for women. Folding seats were provided for police and warders at each end. The tram is 39 feet 6 inches long (12.04 metres), and has an empty weight of 14 tons 16 cwt 3 qrs (15.08 tonnes). It has two Brill 22E type trucks and two GE67 48 horsepower (36 kW) motors.
To cater for the prison tram a siding at Darlinghurst was extended into the police station during 1909–10, and a platform was provided within the police station. A short subway enabled prisoners to be transferred between the police station and the Central Criminal Court. No. 948 was allocated to Waverley depot. In typical service the prison tram operated between Darlinghurst and Long Bay along Oxford Street, Greens Road, Moore Park Road, Driver Avenue, Macarthur Siding and Anzac Parade. The letters ‘NO PASSENGERS’ were painted above the headlights at each end of no. 948 to indicate clearly that it was not one of the many passenger trams that passed along the line. Its route varied occasionally, such as during heavy Easter traffic. At junctions it was given the right of way. If no. 948 was out of service then it was replaced by an O Class tram, which had enclosed compartments in the centre.
Around 7.45 am on 4 March 1946 two prisoners being transported between Long Bay Gaol and Darlinghurst escaped from the prison tram. A prison knife, about 10 inches (25.4 cm) long, which had been made into a form of saw by filing serrations into it, was used to cut a hole in the roof of no. 948. The hole was about 10 inches (25.4 cm) by 12 inches (30.48 cm) in size. Near Robertson Street, Kensington, the men squeezed through the hole and jumped off the tram, then headed towards Centennial Park. The tram was being driven by Harry Perry, and had 30 prisoners on board, including two women. There was considerable loud talking, which provided cover for any noise from the sawing of the roof. One of the two escorting constables rushed to the driver, saying, “Hold it. I think I've lost two of my prisoners.” Driver Perry reported that the tram was travelling at about eight or nine miles an hour (13 of 14 km/h) at the time of the escape. He stopped the tram immediately, and the knife was found inside the compartment the men had escaped from. The tram then continued to Darlinghurst Police Station, where it was examined by police investigators.
One of the escapees was Darcy Dugan, who was imprisoned numerous times during his life, escaped from custody on at least four occasions, and attempted to escape numerous other times. Dugan was 25 years old at the time of the escape, while the other man, Robert Lewis, was 18. After an extensive search involving 300 police, the escapees were recaptured the following day. A member of the public reported seeing two men who resembled the escapees at Gladesville. After a struggle which resulted in injuries to a police officer, Lewis was cornered and overpowered. Dugan eluded police, but was seen at Hunters Hill that evening. Police searched the area and eventually Dugan was caught. He surrendered quietly, telling police he was exhausted and hungry.
Withdrawal and Preservation
Tram no. 948 had its roof repaired and continued in service. However, motor vehicles were becoming increasingly seen as an alternative to trams, including for the transportation of prisoners. The New South Wales Police Department advised the Department of Road Transport and Tramways in 1949 that they would no longer fund maintenance or repairs for the prison tram, or pay costs for the crew to operate the tram. Since no. 948 required major maintenance work to its underframe and body, it was instead withdrawn from service in early 1950. Its last duties were on 19 January 1950 when it carried four police and three prisoners from Darlinghurst to Long Bay Gaol, and then returned with the four police to Darlinghurst. It was transferred to Randwick workshops for scrapping on 11 December 1950.
Fortunately, no. 948 was saved when it was donated to the Australian Electric Traction Association on 17 January 1951. It was stored at Newtown, then Ultimo and Rozelle before being moved to Loftus on 18 March 1957. At this time tram services were still operating regularly on Sydney’s streets, but in less than four years tram operations would cease. No. 948 became the second tramcar to arrive at the tramway museum, which was being established at Loftus. It was an exhibit at the original Sydney Tramway Museum site, on the eastern side of the Princes Highway near the tramway level crossing across the highway, before being transferred to the current tramway museum site, adjacent to Loftus station, which opened to the public in 1988.
Prison trams were also used in other cities, such as Montreal and Berlin. The trams used in those cities were converted from former passenger trams, and it is likely that no. 948 is the only tram in the world that was specifically built for the purpose of transporting prisoners. It is painted in the fawn and olive colour scheme that was adopted in 1918. Although not in operating condition, No. 948 provides a fascinating exhibit for visitors.
The Sydney Tramway Museum has a large collection of trams that are mostly from the former Sydney tramway network, which closed in 1961. Exhibits include C290, the oldest electric tram in Australia. There are also representative trams from the interstate cities of Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Ballarat, and Bendigo, in addition to trams from the overseas cities of San Francisco, Nagasaki, Munich, Milan and Berlin. Tram rides operate along 4 km of track between Sutherland and the Royal National Park. Operating days are Sundays and Wednesdays. The Sydney Tramway Museum is located next to Loftus railway station, on the suburban Illawarra railway line, in Sydney’s southern suburbs.
‘300 police in hunt: both escapees caught’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 March 1946, p. 1.
‘Break from tram: two prisoners elude police’, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 March 1946, p. 4.
Budd, D, Sydney Tramway Museum: visit souvenir, South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society Ltd, Sydney, 2004.
Mitchell, G, ‘Dugan, Darcy Ezekiel (1920–1991)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University
<> published online 2017, accessed 14 February 2019.
‘Prisoners cut way out of gaol tram’, The Sun, 4 March 1946, p. 1.
Sydney Tramway Museum <>.
Wilson, R, ‘Sydney’s prison van tram’, Trolley Wire, no. 309, May 2007, pp. 3–15.
Sydney prison tram 948, Sydney Tramway Museum, Loftus, 25 July 2015.
Interior of Sydney prison tramcar 948, Sydney Tramway Museum, Loftus, 31 December 2008.