The J car story


The Watsons Bay line presented challenges to tramway authorities, even before it was built. Steep hills, such as that on William Street leading up to Kings Cross, ruled out steam trams, but the popularity of the area amongst the many of the artistic, literary folk, not to mention successful business folk, was not to be overlooked. So it was that a cable hauled service, despite the huge capital cost, was approved, but only as far as Ocean Street at Edgecliff. It was opened in 1894, fifteen years after steam services had begun.

Test of electric tramway equipment began at Waverley not long after this and this was seen as a practical means of powering an extension of the line from Ocean Street to Rose Bay wharf. This opened late in 1898, using short, four wheel saloon cars. This four wheel concept was to allow the use of additional alternative braking systems in the event of problems descending the steep hills on the line. It should be mentioned that from the earliest steam trams to the final plush, full length corridor cars, all Sydney trams used air brakes as their standard for normal operation.

When the tram system was sufficiently advanced to consider running electric trams a long the full length of the line from King Street in the city to the Signal Station at Watsons Bay, it was seen that the cross bench style of tram (nick-named toastracks) would be needed to meet the demand to Kings Cross. A new four wheel double ended version of this style, was designed especially with this line in mind. Forty-seven of these were ordered and were later given the official designation, the J class. They commenced operation in King Street in 1905 (pictured).

For years these cars aided by a similar model, (the K class) held sway on the line. However, people noticed that these short cars, with their tendency to bob up and down in the manner of a see-saw, could rarely be driven at the speed of the longer trams fitted with bogies (swivelling under-carriages) seen on the other lines. Double Bay, Rose Bay and Vaucluse were populated by articulate people of means and governments ignored them at their peril.

The increasing popularity of cars had caused the business minded leaders of the tramways to consider that it was time for emphasis of maximum passenger numbers of give way to greater passenger comfort. The desire to improve the service on the Watsons Bay line saw this new model feature a faster applying braking system.

In 1933, this new full length bogie corridor car, called the R class, sporting plush leather seats was introduced, ultimately displacing most of the four wheeled stock, including all the J cars.

J_675_Bendigo_40_MRNo use for the J class trams was seen elsewhere, all disappeared quickly except one, J 675, which was bought for use as a shed, clad and roofed externally for preservation by a Sydney citizen. His will specified that it was to be offered to the Sydney Tramway Museum.

Kind benefactors and some great restoration workers in two Museums, Bendigo and Sydney have brought this tram back to its former glory!

The paintwork seen on this was the final livery of the class, used for most of their operation. They are presented as Sydney’s very oldest citizens may remember!

Further reading: The Watsons Bay Line by David Keenan available from The Green Tram Bookshop at the Sydney Tram Museum.

Photographs: top, from the Don Campbell Collection; lower, J 673 driven by Bill Jolly a member of both museums, emerges from Bendigo Museum for a street test – Malcom Rowe

Postscript: Ann Beveridge of the Daily Telegraph has written a beautiful story of Sydney’s tram system around the story of 675 and has highlighted our Festival in today’s issue, Saturday, Feb 21 page 101. We thank the Tele and the other media outlets, print and electronic, who have supported our Festival be be held on Sunday, 22nd.