Melbourne has the world's largest tram network, comprising 250 kilometres of track, 500 trams and 2000 tram stops. With 200,000,000 passenger trips every year, they are the most used form of public transport after trains. Operating continuously since 1884 in one form or another, they have become an integral part of Melbourne's image and culture. Originally operating as horse drawn vehicles, they progressed through a complex (and presumably very dangerous) cable drawn mechanism, to the electric system drawing power from overhead wires still in use today. They are robust and reliable, and many of the venerable W-Class vehicles originating in the 20s are still in use today. They are so much a part of the road system that they have given rise to one of the most interesting traffic control measures in the world - the bizarre hook turn, designed to facilitate their co-existence with cars.
A good place to bone up on their history is the Melbourne Tram Museum, located in the old Hawthorn Tram Depot in Wallen Road, Hawthorn. It houses restored examples of many of the models to have graced the rails over the years, together with a large assortment of tram related ephemera. It's a bit of a squeeze, but it's interesting to see relics of an era when elegance of form was as important as function. There's lots of polished timber, ornate wrought iron, rich leather, and even the odd stained glass panel. Most people will come to see the the trams, but for me the greatest treasure in the place is Norm.
Volunteer guide Norm worked on the trams for nearly 50 years, as a tradesman, driver and unofficial historian. His encyclopaedic knowledge of not only the network, but also of individual trams, is nothing short of astounding. Every detailed story - and he has many, which he relates at length - includes the identification number of all the trams involved. His love of trams is evident, and no trip to the museum would be complete without following him around as he relives the glory days of these Melbourne icons.