Heidelberg History - What about Trams?
The reasons why Heidelberg lacks a tram service are both historical and controversial. Proximity to an existing railway line, narrow streets and steep hills have all been suggested, but these have not stopped services from running to other such places. Trams already ran to many of Melbourne's suburbs, including some with narrow main streets and nearby railway lines, such as Sydney Road, Coburg.
Bureaucracy, perhaps, played a greater part in the story.
From the 1880s onwards, there were plans for trams to Heidelberg, but they remained as plans. By 1921, many people in the Heidelberg district were most disappointed that no tram service had yet been provided.
People who had purchased allotments years earlier did not go ahead and build houses while they waited for better transport. What should come first, the services or the residents?
The following article from The Argus, 29 November, 1921, page 8, explains some of the problems that faced the future of such a service and some ideas on how it might have been done.
The highlighted selections include key points about the story of trams to Heidelberg and district. "Yes, Minister.", "Utopia" and "Hollowmen" might explain some of it.
"A householder of Heidelberg yesterday put forward the opinion of the residents why Heidelberg—from six and a half to eight miles of the General Post-office—stood still while other more remote and less picturesque centres were building to the limits of their capacity.
"There was," he said, "one house on these estates 50 years ago, there is one house to-day, and there will be one house 50 years hence unless better travelling facilities are provided for the people who live over half a mile from the railway."
A determined effort is not being made to obtain a tramway service for the district.
The householder quoted above pointed out that there were no land-booming influences at the back of the movement. Practically the whole of the estates had been subdivided and sold. But the purchasers would not build upon the blocks till they had facilities for getting to and from business, and their womenfolk could get to the city occasionally.
There are 5,526 vacant lots, including "broad acres," and about 90 per cent of this land has been purchased by people who are anxious to build and settle in the district. Much of the land was purchased by people who are anxious to build and settle in the district.
Much of the land was purchased some time ago, when it was understood that the Heidelberg council contemplated the construction of electric tramways to "feed" the railways. The municipality at the time was prepared to shoulder the responsibilty but the new Tramways Act deprived it of the right to establish the system.
The complaint of the residents and the municipality now is that the act prevents the council from making the line, and the tramways board will not carry out the work.
This position persists in face of the fact that ratepayers whose properties would benefit by the line are prepared to guarantee the board against loss.One proposal was that a line would commence at Clifton Hill, follow the Heidelberg road to Station street, Fairfield, follow Station street into Darebin road; thence to Livingston street, Ivanhoe, along Livingston street to the Ivanhoe station, and along the Lower road to the Heidelberg station. Another branch was to form a loop by following the Upper road to Heidelberg.
It will be seen that this proposal establishes a tramway route from Heidelberg to the city, but it is said by those who know the locality that the line would not prejudicially affect the railway revenue. The Upper and Lower road branches would carry passengers to the Heidelberg station, and other sections would carry them to Fairfield and Clifton Hill. The railway traffic would expand with the increased settlement.
Mr. A. Cameron, the chairman of the Tramways Board, has answered these claims. He says that 6,000 residents to the square mile are required to justify tramways extension; and that Heidelberg cannot show anything of the kind.
This, of course, raises the old question whether railways and tramways should precede or follow settlement.
Private ownership would doubtless take the same view here that it takes in America—that settlement would follow close upon the heels of construction. But private enterprise would have to consider nothing but the development and expansion of the system upon a payable basis. It would not be liable to have its revenue set apart for the upkeep of the charities and other extraneous purposes, as the Tramways Board has.
The outstanding fact is that the municipality wants a tramway. The board will not construct it, and the law will not allow the municipality itself to construct it.
The municipality has over 5,000 vacant blocks of ground, which its officials consider would be occupied by 20,000 people if tramway facilities were available. The blocks are all over half a mile distant from the railway. The matter, the municipality holds, should be inquired into at once by the Parliamentary Railways Standing Committee.
At the close of the last year the board had a special bill passed giving power for the construction of five urgent lines, of which a Heidelberg line was one. So far the Shire Council has been unable to get any definite announcement of the position occupied by Heidelberg on the list; or the route the line is prepared to take.
If the Railways Standing Committee took the matter in hand, the work of construction would be commenced as soon as the question of finance was adjusted. The residents are confident that an impartial inquiry would convince the Standing Committee that the work should be put in hand at once.
It is not against the Tramways Board only that Heidelberg has a grievance. Both the Railways department and the Public Works department have assisted in retarding reasonable development. An examination of a map of Melbourne within a radius of seven miles of the General Post-office shows that the rim of the wheel between Kew and Northcote is served by a single railway line. There is no stretch of similar length more suitable for residental purposes and none so poorly served with transport facilities.
It would relieve the position considerably if stations were erected between Heidelberg and Ivanhoe; and between Ivanhoe and Alphington. The latter was put in hand a few months ago, but for some reason the men were withdrawn, and the work is now at a standstill.
On the right-hand side of the line passing from Ivanhoe to Heidelberg is Eaglemont Hill, which slopes down to the line and offers an exceptional site for hundreds of residences. It is cut up into blocks and the streets are named; but the most prominent structures are three mammoth rows which advertise a certain brand of milk.
The rows will remain in undisputed possession till those who own the blocks are assured that if they build they will not have a weary walk of three-quarters of a mile to the nearest station. Since the electrification the train service has been improved, but, pending the installation of a tramway service, much more could be done for the inhabitants.
Owing to the failure of the Public Works department to carry out its undertakings for the completion of the boulevard along the river, the Yarra, which should add materially to the attractions of the locality, has proved a hindrance to development.
A bridge, and a short tramway across the Yarra near Burke road would link up Heidelberg with Malvern and the beaches. The line would afford a pleasant run for the people on both ends; and would give to a large section a fairly convenient outlet to the city. This bridge was portion of the undertaking given by the Public Works department when the boulevard from Alphington to Heidelberg was undertaken.
The department also undertook to fence and construct the boulevard from Alphington to Heidelberg in consideration of certain payments by Kew and Heidelberg councils. The work has not been completed, and, beyond expending some hundreds of pounds upon earthwork for the bridge, nothing has been done towards spanning the river.
Both the Kew and Burke road trams are within a short distance of the river. This breach of contract is the more remarkable when it is remembered that many owners gave a strip of 25ft of land to allow the construction of the boulevard.
Heidelberg claims that there is nothing in its past record to justfy its being treated as a Cinderella suburb. Everything that has been expended upon it in the past has given a good return. It did not have a direct line until 1902; and since then the population of the shire has increased from 4,000 to approximately 16,000. The line has fully paid. The assessments in the the same period increased from £49,778 to £138,396. With proper transport facilities the next ten years should witness an even more striking expansion."
Heidelberg Historical Society (Inc. No. A0042118P)