Adamstown Tram, 1900-1950

Tram services in Newcastle began in July 1887 with the opening of the Newcastle to Wallsend line. Other areas wanted a piece of the action and immediately began agitating for extensions to the tram line. In October 1887, Adamstown Council sent a deputation to Sydney asking for a line to their municipality, but it took another decade of lobbying before the Government finally approved the Adamstown line.

Construction began on 22 January 1900 of a one-mile single track that branched from the Wallsend line at the Nine Ways in Broadmeadow and ran along Brunker Rd. A steam tram service commenced on 13 August 1900, and the line was subsequently electrified in 1925.

Originally the tram terminated at the Public School, and this was a source of much contention. The tram whistle disrupted meetings of the Methodist (now Uniting) Church, and the shunting of engines back and forth across the Glebe Rd intersection to couple up with carriages for the return journey to Newcastle caused much traffic congestion.

In 1927 as part of the tram line duplication, the terminus was moved to just south of Glebe Rd, but this caused as many problems as it solved. With the terminus now in the centre of the narrow main shopping street, in an era when car and bus traffic was increasing, congestion was even worse. In 1929 a widening of the street by 18 feet failed to fix the problem, so in 1938 the tram line was extended south a further 100 yards to place the terminus past Victoria St.

As competition from bus services increased, some advocated that the tram system should be closed, while others argued that it should be extended. Eventually, with falling patronage and rising costs, the service proved unsustainable, and at 11:41pm on Sunday 16 April 1950 the last tram from Adamstown returned to the city.

Seventy years on, with passenger numbers on Newcastle’s light rail exceeding forecasts in its first year of operation, who knows, maybe we will one day see a return of trams to our suburbs?

The Victoria St terminus on the last day of the Adamstown tram service, 16 April 1950. Photo courtesy of Greg and Sylvia Ray from their book “Destination Newcastle”.
The same location in Brunker Rd Adamstown in 2020.

The article above was first published in the April 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Union St

One piece of information that I deliberately excluded from the published article, to keep it simple, was that the main shopping street of Adamstown that we now know as Brunker Rd, was originally called Union St. A real estate poster from 1921 shows the tram line running along Brunker Rd to the terminus at the Public School. South of Glebe Rd, the roadway narrows and becomes Union St.

Portion of real estate poster from 1921 showing Union St Adamstown. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

In 1925-1926, Adamstown Council negotiated with the Main Roads Board, and reached an agreement to widen Union St. The work progressed during 1927-1929 and an official opening of the newly widened street was held in November 1929, where it was noted that …

“Prior to its being widened, Union street, with a roadway of only 30ft, was long regarded as dangerous for traffic … The roadway [now] is 42ft wide and the footpaths 12ft, the total width being 66ft. To widen the street, it was necessary to resume a strip of land 18ft deep on the western side, and the buildings were either demolished, and new ones erected, or they were moved back to the new alignment.”

I haven’t been able to confirm when exactly Union St was changed to be an extension of Brunker Rd, however a search of Trove reveals that the Union St name seems to disappear around 1949.

The end of trams

The view that it was competition from the motor buses that killed off the tram system is starkly presented in a commemorative postcard from 1950 which stated …

Born 5 July 1887. Died 10 June 1950. 63 years old. R.I.P.
In rememberance of Newcastle’s trams, which were finally suffocated by the deisel ‘buses.

(Note that the dates in the postcard are slightly off – the Wallsend line opened for public traffic on 19 July 1887, and the last tram ran on the Waratah line on 11 June 1950.)

A commemorative postcard from 1950 lamenting the ‘death’ of Newcastle’s trams. From the Arthur Perry collection, Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
7 Oct 1887"The agitation for an extension of the tram line, which has been going the rounds of the district, has at length reached Adamstown."
18 Sep 1893"On Thursday an officer from the Department of Public Works met the Mayor and aldermen on the matter of the extension of the tramway from Broadmeadow to Adamstown."
24 Oct 1898Municipal conference calls for tramway service to Adamstown.
1 Nov 1899
31 Oct 1899
"The Cabinet decided to-day to construct the tramway extensions from Broadmeadow to Adamstown and from Tighe's Hill to Mayfield."
2 Nov 1899"The announcement in yesterday's 'Herald' that the Government had agreed to construct the tramway from Broadmeadow to Adamstown has given great satisfaction to residents and the public generally. The survey for the tramline was made five years ago."
6 Jan 1900"The plans and book of reference are now open for inspection at the office of the Minister for Public Works for the line of tramway authorised to be constructed from Newcastle to Adamstown. All persons who may be interested in the lands through which the line will run are required to lodge any objections on or before the 26th inst."
20 Jan 1900"The amount of work that the tramway extension from Broadmeadow to Adamstown will provide has caused considerable disappointment to be felt by the local unemployed, many of whom were more than hoping that the work would be sufficient to enable them to relieve families dependent on them. But there should not have been disappointment, as it was not at any time officially represented that the extension, the length of which is only a mile, covering an easy route, and requiring only simple work, would provide employment for a large number of men."
19 Jan 1900
22 Jan 1900
Construction of Adamstown tramway to be "begun on Monday by the selected men, who will apply pick and shoved to several small hills. At noon to-day Mr. Creer will meet the men at the Broadmeadow waiting shed. About 10 capable men will meet present requirements,."
22 Jan 1900"General satisfaction is expressed at a start being made with the tram extension, but there is a deal of dissatisfaction at the way the men for the work were selected."
30 Apr 1900"The tram extension is proceeding slowly, and now the rails are laid to the municipal boundary of Hamilton and Adamstown. Now that the tramway is nearing completion there are people who argue that the tram terminus will not be in the proper place at the Public School, and that the terminus should be at the Carrington Hall, or down the Glebe-road, near the reserve."
14 Aug 1900
13 Aug 1900
Opening of the Adamstown Tramway.
16 Dec 1901"Many of the local aldermen say that the tram terminus is in the wrong place. The principal objections are that the tram stands in the centre of the road and starting as it does from a point directly opposite the Primitive Methodist Church door, the whistling annoys the congregation."
31 Jan 1925
2 Feb 1925
"Slowly but surely the antiquated steam tram is disappearing from the streets of Newcastle. The latest section of tramline to have electric overhead wires strung above it is that between Broadmeadow and Adamstown."
8 Jan 1927"The duplication of the tram line from Melville-road to Adamstown tram terminus has been completed and put into use. Delays which were unavoidable are now overcome, and a faster service established. While the public will appreciate the duplication of the line, the making of the terminal in front of two main business premises, at the intersection of Union-street and Glebe-road, is regretted; in fact, some of the trams make the stop right across the intersection of Union-street and Glebe-road, which at times is dangerous, carrying traffic four ways, and being the main road to Sydney, with an every day increase of traffic. "
19 Mar 1931"Newcastle Transport Trust, by allowing the trams to terminate in the middle of Union-street, has defeated the council's aims, and has created one of the most dangerous spots in the district. Before the street was widened, and before the trams were electrified the terminus was at the public school stop. The steam trams stopped here while the engine shunted across the Glebe-road intersection and back again to couple up with the front portion of the trams for the return to Newcastle. In August, 1925, Alderman Wiggins commenced an agitation to have the bottle-neck eliminated. The work was started in 1928 and the new widened street opened for traffic at the end of 1929. In the meantime the trams were electrified and the Tramway Department made the terminus right at the intersection. Council agitation caused it to move the terminus further along to the middle of Union-street, which was very unsatisfactory to the council. At present the tram loiters here, in the middle of the council's' parking area. If vehicles park at shops on either side of the tram and stay there for any length of time, traffic is completely held up."
7 Apr 1932 Council debates having "the tram terminus fixed at its original position in front of the school, pending the extension of the tramline."
19 May 1938"The suggested abolition of Adamstown tram service was not received very favourably in that suburb yesterday, though in some quarters it was thought that an adequate omnibus service might meet demands, particularly during the slack hours. While the people of Adamstown, particularly those in the western portion, seek improved transport facilities, any suggestion to abolish the tramway service was criticised."
6 Sep 1938"Adamstown tram terminus has been extended, not to Rifle-street, but to a point opposite the Mechanics' Institute, just beyond Victoria-street. For many years the terminus was near the intersection of Glebe road and Union-street, but the growing traffic problem and public agitation caused its removal recently to the locality mentioned."
10 Oct 1946"The State's tram, bus and railway services are, generally, in a grave position, the Auditor General (Mr. Swift) warns the State Government in his annual report … The disconcerting feature is the disproportionate increase of working expenses relative to earnings through the years … the number of passengers carried on buses increased, but there was a decrease in tramway travellers.”
17 Apr 1950
16 Apr 1950
"After 50 years and 8 months' service, the Adamstown tramway closed last night when tram No. 252 left the terminus at 11.41 o'clock bound for Gordon avenue depot."
17 Apr 1950
16 Apr 1950
"MR. T. H. GRICE, of Brunker - road, Broadmeadow, 70-year-old former ganger for the Tramways Department, last night fulfilled an ambition when he travelled on the last tram to run from Adamstown to Newcastle before buses took over the route. Mr. Grice retired from the department almost 10 years ago. He was on the first electric tram to operate on this route, on January 2, 1925."

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