The first line, from Spencer Street to the end of Bridge Road Richmond via Flinders Street, was opened on 11 November 1885, and all planned lines were built by 1891, the last being the short Windsor-St Kilda Esplanade line, opened 17 October 1891. By then it had about 75 kilometres (47 mi) of double track (103.2 route km or 64.12 route miles) and 1,200 cars and trailers, on 15 routes radiating from the centre of Melbourne to neighbouring suburbs. It was one of the largest cable car systems in the world, comparable with those of San Francisco which had 23 lines, and Chicago which had 66.0 km of double track.
With the exception of the Northcote tramway, which was privately built and managed, the infrastructure of the network was built by the Melbourne Tramway Trust, which consisted of representatives of the 12 local councils served by the system. The trust bought land, laid the tracks, and built the cable winding houses. The Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Company (MTOC) provided the trams and operated the services from 1885 to 1916 under an exclusive 30-year franchise arrangement with the Victorian Government. MTOC had been founded by Francis Boardman Clapp, an American emigrant, who had purchased the Victorian rights to the patents of the cable system developed by Andrew Hallidie. George Smith Duncan, who had built the Roslyn cable tramway in Dunedin, New Zealand, was the engineer in charge of the development of the Melbourne cable network.
On the expiration of the MTOC's franchise in 1916, the cable tram network was transferred to the Victorian Government, and then passed to the government-owned Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB) on 1 November 1919. The Northcote tramway was transferred to the MMTB on 20 February 1920.
Although the first electric tram service was introduced in 1889, and ran for seven years between the outer Melbourne suburbs of Box Hill and Doncaster, the electric tram network did not seriously commence until 1906, when the Victorian Railways built an "Electric Street Railway" from St Kilda railway station to Brighton, and the North Melbourne Electric Tramway & Lighting Company built an electric tramway towards Essendon from the terminus of the cable system. From 1924 the cable tram lines were progressively converted to electric traction. The last Melbourne cable tram ran on 26 October 1940, on the Northcote to Bourke Street route.
Opened on 11 November 1885. The trams operated along Spencer Street from Bourke Street to Flinders Street, Flinders Street to Wellington Parade, and Bridge Road to Hawthorn Bridge. The powerhouse was located on Bridge Road, at Hoddle Street, and has since been demolished to provide for a left-turn lane. The remains of the Richmond cable tram depot now form part of the Amora Hotel, near Hawthorn Bridge. The trams comprised a double-ended dummy and trailer, operated by a single-jaw side grip on a 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) gauge tram line.
Opened on 1 October 1887, with the powerhouse located on the north-west corner of Brunswick Road and Black Street.
Opened on 21 December 1887, with the powerhouse located on the north side of Johnston Street, near Brunswick Street.
Opened on 15 February 1889, with the powerhouse located on the north-west corner of Toorak Road and Chapel Street.
Opened on 18 April 1890, with the powerhouse located at the south-west corner of Queensberry Street and Abbotsford Street.
Opened on 17 June 1890, with the powerhouse located on the south side of City Road, near Cecil Street.
Opened on 20 June 1890, with the powerhouse located on the south side of City Road, near Cecil Street.
Melbourne's only privately built and operated cable tramway. Opened on 18 February 1890, it was originally independent of the rest of the cable system. The powerhouse was located on the north-east corner of High and Martin Streets. The powerhouse building is currently occupied by a panel beating business.
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The Melbourne Cable Trams Matthews, H.H. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, January 1941
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