The Victorian Government acquired the assets of the North Melbourne Electric Tramways & Lighting Company (NMETL) with effect from 1 August 1922. The Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB) took possession of the tram depot in Ascot Vale, rolling stock and 3 tram lines. NMETL was the last tramway company to be taken over by the M&MTB. The State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) took over the power station in Ascot Vale and the electricity distribution business.
The NMETL and the “Essendon Tram Lines”
Moonee Valley relied on railways and horse drawn coaches before the arrival of the electric trams. The strength of Flemington Bridge remained an effective barrier to tram development with cable trams from the CBD terminating on the Flemington Road side.
In 1904 the ratepayers of the Town of Essendon and the Borough of Flemington & Kensington voted in favour of tramway construction.
The NMETL was incorporated in the United Kingdom with a licence to construct and operate the tram lines and power station. Despite its “North Melbourne” title, the NMETL only operated in Flemington, Ascot Vale, Moonee Ponds and Essendon. The three tram lines were grouped together and were commonly referred to as the Essendon Tram Lines and the depot referred to as the Essendon Tram Depot, a name it still has although located in Mt. Alexander Road Ascot Vale.
The Depot and Power Station
The power station, company offices and tram depot were built in Ascot Vale. The foundation stone for the power station was laid on 24 May 1905 by the Mayors of Essendon (Cr Arthur Showers) and Flemington (Cr James Raisbeck). On 22 Jun 1905 the Premier the Hon. Thomas Bent, laid the first rail near the junction of Racecourse Road and Epsom Road, Ascot Vale.
A demonstration of electric light and power was provided in the old Ascot Vale Town Hall by the NMETL on 15 May 1906. The first electric illumination was installed in Puckle Street at Mr. A. E. Young’s premises. By 1907, many houses in Ascot Vale, Essendon and Moonee Ponds were connected.
The NMETL power station and company offices in Mt Alexander Road Ascot Vale. The tram depot was accessed between the two buildings and survives as roads 13-18 of the current Essendon Depot. The power station and company offices were demolished in November 1944.
The NMETL built three lines:
- Keilor Road. Commencing on the north of Flemington Bridge and terminating at the Lincolnshire Arms at North Essendon (still in use today as part of the Airport West route).
- Saltwater River. From Flemington Bridge via Victoria Street to Racecourse Road then on today’s West Maribyrnong route as far as the Saltwater River (Maribyrnong) bridge. Renamed Maribyrnong River route in 1917.
- Puckle Street from Moonee Ponds Junction to the Railway Station. Operated on race days for patrons at the Moonee Valley Racecourse.
Puckle Street Moonee Ponds Tram Line. Building is the Post Office.
The first two lines are Melbourne’s oldest operational electric tram lines. The NMETL tramway system was officially opened on 11 October 1906. Schoolchildren were treated to a free service on 12 October and normal services commenced 13 October 1906.
The company was also authorized to build a line along Lincoln Road and Waverley Street but let this lapse.
The only substantial investment in the tramway by the NMETL was on 27 August 1913 with a 400 feet extension of the terminus at Flemington Bridge to be adjacent to the cable tram terminus.
The Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board
State Parliament passed two key bills in 1918 which created the M&MTB and the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV). The government then passed the North Melbourne Electric Tramways and Lighting Company Act authorizing the acquisition of the NMETL in its entirety from its British parent, taking effect as from 1 August 1922. Several articles argue that the takeovers were motivated by the politics of electricity generation rather than the tram lines.
The M&MTB made the following route alterations:
- Napier Street siding to serve Windy Hill and Moonee Valley Racecourse (25 Aug 1923). Unused since 1991, the last vestiges were removed in May 2007.
- Keilor Road line was extended to Keilor Road State School, Gillies Street (7 Jul 1923), Birdwood Street (7 Feb 1937), Essendon Aerodrome (16 May 1943). The route was given a new terminus in Mathews Avenue, north of Vaughan Street and track inside the Airport abandoned (7 Oct 1976). The route was extended to Airport West on 24 Jan 1993.
- Puckle Street line was closed and dismantled (Jan 1924). It may have been out of use for some years.
- A direct city connection to William Street Melbourne (19 Jul 1925).
- Victoria Street connection between Mt Alexander Road and Racecourse Road abandoned (8 Aug 1929). Replaced by the current direct Barwise Street (Racecourse Road) line to Flemington Road (4 Aug 1929).
- Showgrounds siding opened in Union Rd Ascot Vale (15 Oct 1934).
- Maribyrnong River line was extended to the Explosives Factory, West Maribyrnong (22 Dec 1940).
- A new tramline from Moonee Ponds Junction to Ascot Vale Junction (Maribyrnong Road and Union Rd) opened on 24 May 1942 for munition workers. This would be joined with a Footscray line (2 May 1954).
Manufactured in New York by John Stephenson Company, a subsidiary of J.G. Brill Company. It was imported in kit form and assembled by Adelaide car builder Duncan & Fraser in 1906 for the NMETL.
With the M&MTB takeover in 1922, No 13 was renumbered as No 214 and classified into the V class. It was withdrawn from passenger service in 1925 and used as a works and freight car. In 1978 it was reconstructed to near original condition and numbered as V class No 214. In 2006 it was repainted in NMETL livery and numbered 13 and is now on display as part of the collection of the Melbourne Tram Museum in Hawthorn.
Additional information: Melbourne Tram Museum https://www.hawthorntramdepot.org.au Their website has articles on NMETL and tramcar 13.