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First trams across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, O Class cars Nos. 1106 and 1212, 11 March 1932. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Former Sydney tram No. O1111, Sydney Tramway Museum, Loftus, 25 July 2015.

Sydney’s O Class and Melbourne’s W Series Trams

David Matheson

 19 February 2023

Sydney’s O Class trams and Melbourne’s W Series trams were the numerous trams in their respective cities. While the O Class was a single class, the W series consisted of various classes with different variations.


O Class trams

A total of 626 O Class trams entered service in Sydney, making them Australia’s most numerous type of tram. The O Class trams were numbered 903 to 947, 949 to 1279 and 1330 to 1479. Number 806 was a prototype car built at Randwick Workshops and was the first to enter service on 8 March 1908. The remainder of the O Class trams were built by the Meadowbank Manufacturing Company from 1908 to 1914. They were a bogie cross-bench type with four open compartments and four enclosed compartments. Seating was provided for 80 passengers. Each had four motors, with different motors being provided to different cars. The motors were either 37 horsepower (27.6 kW), 40 horsepower (29.8 kW) or 43.5 horsepower (32.4 kW). The last O Class tram to enter service was 1479 on 26 September 1914. It was proposed that a further 50 cars be built but this did not eventuate.


The O Class trams were the most iconic of Sydney’s tramcars. Generally trouble-free in their operation, they were popular with crews and were also well-regarded by passengers. They were built to a cross-bench design, where seating was provided in a series of compartments that each opened to a footboard, and were commonly known as ‘toast rack’ trams because of their appearance. This design enabled them to load and unload passengers quickly. Sydney was one of the only cities in the world where the cross-bench was the standard tramcar design. They were the mainstay of the Sydney tram fleet for over 40 years and operated on all electrified tramways in Sydney. Most of the O Class trams could be coupled and operated as multiple units, but 51 were non-coupling trams. They were highly successful and proved their worth in moving large numbers of passengers in a short space of time, particularly at locations such as the Sydney Cricket Ground and Randwick Racecourse. Apart from two P Class trams, the O Class were the fastest trams in Sydney.


From 1953 the numbers of O Class trams began to dwindle until they were withdrawn from regular service following the closure of the tram lines along Sydney’s George Street in 1958. The last to run as coupled trams were 1111 and 1187, which operated a special tour on 11 January 1959.


Eleven of the O Class trams were converted to OP Class, which involved enclosing the four open compartments. Four were converted to breakdown cars and one was converted to a flat motor car for use at Randwick Workshops.


Four O Class trams have been preserved: 805, 957 and 1111 are at the Sydney Tramway Museum at Loftus and 1187 is at the Oregon Electric Railway Museum at Brooks, Oregon, United States of America. 805 is owned by the Powerhouse Museum but is on loan to the Sydney Tramway Museum. Two other former O Class trams are at the Sydney Tramway Museum: 1030 was converted to a breakdown tram and is preserved as 141s, and 1089 was converted to an OP Class tram, retaining the same number.


W Series trams

The first W series tram entered service in Melbourne on 21 December 1923. The W series trams, with various classes, became the standard Melbourne tram, with a total of 756 entering service up to 1956. Upon commencing service, the Ws incorporated design features of the era being used on larger tramway systems throughout Australia. These included varnished timber seats, weather blinds protecting doorways, four motors and air brakes. They had a drop-centre layout, which was commonly used on tramways in Australia, but less common in other parts of the world. The first class of the series, the W Class, had 200 members that entered service.


The first variation on the original design came in 1926 with the introduction of what were designated the W1 Class trams. They featured longitudinal seats in the drop-centre section, providing open-air seating similar to the cable trams that were in operation in Melbourne. The W1 Class had 30 members.


In 1927 the first W2 Class trams entered service and they would become the most numerous trams ever to operate in Melbourne. The major differences from the original W Class trams were wider outer doors in the drop-centre section and back-to-back seats, also in the drop-centre section. Eventually 406 of the W2 Class trams entered service, 180 of which were built as new, while the remainder were rebuilt from W Class and W1 Class trams. For many people the W2s typified Melbourne trams.


Four W1 Class trams were converted to become the SW2 Class in 1938. They featured sliding doors in place of weather blinds. Following accident damage, two W2 Class trams were also converted to become SW2 members, one in 1953 and one in 1955.


Sixteen W3 and five W4 Class trams entered service between 1930 and 1935. The W3s had larger diameter wheels than their predecessors, which aimed to provide quieter running. The W4s had a wider body, which enabled transverse seating to be introduced in the saloons, and central side panels that curved inwards to join the frame at the bottom.


Five members of the CW5 Class entered service in 1935. The bodies were identical to the W5 Class, but they featured maximum traction trucks. All were converted to become W5 Class trams in 1956.


A total of 125 of the W5 Class trams commenced service from 1935. They also featured a wider body, measuring 2.74 metres, whereas the width of the W2s was 2.29 metres. While under construction, the final ten members of the W5 Class had power doors installed that were controlled by the driver, and they commenced service as the SW5 Class. Between 1983 and 1986, 83 members of the W5 Class were converted to become SW5 Class.


Between 1939 and 1951 a total of 120 SW6 Class trams were built. They featured sliding doors in all cars. Thirty were later reclassified as W6 Class.


From 1951 to 1955 the 30 members of the W6 Class entered service. Originally, they were a subgroup of the SW6 trams but eventually became their own class.


The final W series trams to be built new were the W7 Class, with 40 trams entering service in 1955 and 1956. They included soundproofed floors, upholstered seating and a redesigned drop-centre section.


From 2013 a number of W series trams were converted to become the W8 Class. The refurbishment involved range of features, including improved safety through a strengthened underframe and driver’s cab, improved electrical controls, and installation of a public address system. Seven of the SW6 Class, two of the W6 Class and one W7 Class trams have been converted. The W8 Class trams are in service on the City Circle route.



A small number of Sydney’s O Class trams have been preserved. Nos 805, 957 and 1111 are at the Sydney Tramway Museum at Loftus. Also located at Loftus are breakdown tram 141s and OP Class tram 1089, both of which were originally O Class trams. O Class no. 1187 is operational at the Oregon Electric Railway Museum.


Numerous W series trams have been preserved, with all classes represented. Many continue in operational service at tramway museums in Australia and overseas. In 1990 all remaining W series trams were classified by the National Trust. Initially the Government was committed to keeping a number in service, but most were gradually withdrawn and entered into storage. Some have been transferred to community organisations in recent years. A fleet of heritage trams had safety features upgraded and are in regular service on Melbourne’s City Circle route.



Budd, D, Sydney Tramway Museum: visit souvenir, South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society Ltd, Sydney, 2004.

Cross, N, D Budd & R Wilson, Destination City: Melbourne’s electric trams, 5th edn, Transit Australia Publishing, Sydney, 2001.

Lee, R, Transport: an Australian history, University of NSW, Sydney, 2010.

McCarthy, K & N Chinn, New South Wales tramcar handbook 1861–1961, Part One, South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society, Sydney,


Richardson, J, Destination Circular Quay, 3rd edn, Transit Publications, Canberra, 1967.

Richardson, J (Ed.), Destination City, 2nd edn, Transit Publications, Canberra, 1960.

Wilson, R & D Budd, Destination Waterfront City: a guide to Melbourne’s trams, Transit Australia Publishing, Sydney, 2015.

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Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board W2 class tram No. 350 on a Route 48 North Balwyn service turning from Spencer Street into Flinders Street, Melbourne. A Victorian Railways goods train with bulk grain hoppers in its consist passes overhead on its way to or from the grain terminal near the port of Melbourne, May 1978. Photo: John Ward, Flickr Commons.


W8 Class tram No. 1010, Queen’s Bridge, Melbourne, 15 January 2017.

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