Author: Sharon Moller
Melbourne Historic Network
Almost unique amongst western cities, Melbourne retains its original, Victorian era, on-street tram system. This presents the city with a dilemma: how to best incorporate modern, low-floor, light rail vehicles on its 19th Century infrastructure. As most of the network was laid down in the middle of the wide city streets, passengers wait on the footpath before crossing out into the road to climb up onto the tram.
After trying some alternatives* the E-Class trams were introduced in 2013 having been ‘Made in Melbourne”. These vehicles look set to become the standard for Melbourne’s busiest routes as they can be extended in future to 45 metres in length.
I took my 10-month-old niece (and her mum) out for a trip on Route 11 – along with the pram.
The Step-free Challenge
We began our journey at Miller Street – Stop 37. Route 11 is served by a mixture of tram types so I checked the Yarra Trams website on my phone and we waited for the next E-Class. Miller Street stop is in the middle of the road so it was clearly impossible for our proud new E-Class tram to allow step-free access to passengers climbing up from the middle of a road traffic lane. Whilst local road rules require cars to wait behind the tram at this time, it is still quite an obstacle with a pram. Even with the tram’s ramped door vestibule, my sister required assistance with her pram.
The accessibility problem is mostly experienced in the residential neighbourhoods as most central stops have been fitted with raised platforms, built out from the footpath. It is in central Melbourne’s “free tram” zone that the E-Class tram was more suited. The low-floors met the raised tram stops and the wide doors allowed large numbers of passengers to quickly and easily alight and board, the spacious walk through cars accommodate up to 210 passengers. Our tram was averagely loaded and passengers could circulate without being inconvenienced by the numerous prams and bulky luggage, though the comfort on board was interrupted by the occasional “spirited” jolt of acceleration.
Overall, the new trams are a definite improvement on the older high-floor vehicles but accessibility really does depend on which stop you need. There is a word-heavy accessibility guide for each route but it’s not very user-friendly. If you have a lot of time for research there is also a description of the various tram stop types.
My niece definitely approved of the day out!
*After a minor French flirtation with Alstom’s Citadis, nicknamed “the Bumblebee”, and a disasterous encounter with Siemen’s Combino; Public Transport Victoria (PTV) plumped for Bombardier’s Flexity Swift, named the E-Class, as their future workhorse tram.
About the Author: Sharon is a London-based Town Planner specialising in integrating transport projects into the urban fabric.
More reviews from Australia: