Electric trams find new home at city's Heritage Park

By Mike Dinsdale


Steam and Model Railway Club Waitakere's loss is Whangarei's gain with two 1924 electric trams that first serviced passengers in Lisbon now taking up residence in the district.

The two trams will soon be taking passengers around the Whangarei Museum and Heritage Park grounds in Maunu after they were given for free to the Whangarei Steam and Model Railway Club by the West Auckland Group of vintage machinery and building enthusiasts.

The two trams, built in 1924 to take passengers around the hilly areas around Lisbon, Portugal, have a colourful history, West Auckland Group leader Dave Harre said.

Lisbon donated eight of the trams to Aspen, Colorado, USA, where after 20 years they ended up in a field, with some used as target practice - one of the two that ended up here had bullet holes and shot out windows.

Mr Harre had earlier restored a tram that was donated to Wanganui and when he heard the Aspen ones were up for sale - for the princely sum of US$25 each - he bought two, then spent $55,000 bringing them to New Zealand five years ago.

The group has since spent thousands of hours and a not inconsiderable sum restoring them. The plan was for the then Waitakere City Council to use the trams as part of an electric tram network around Henderson, but the implementation of the Auckland Super City stymied that plan. That meant the trams needed another home.

"I offered them to all the towns and museums around the country and the most definite and clear response was from Whangarei so we decided to donate them to the club," Mr Harre said.

"[The museum grounds] is a lovely place for them and you have some enthusiastic people who we know will look after them really well. We've put a lot of time and effort into restoring them and I feel sad to see them go, but very excited and thankful that they will be such an asset ... It's also not that far away so our club members can come and see them anytime."

Whangarei Steam and Model Railway Club treasurer Ray Palmer said it was pretty special for the club to have been given the trams - which weigh about 15 tonnes each - and the members would be working flat out to get a tramline built at the museum for them to run on.

Mr Palmer said discussions had already been held with Northpower about putting in the overhead powerlines needed. He estimated the club would need about $50,000 to complete the job while members would put in as much labour as they could.

"They will be a real asset for Whangarei and they will be the first ever electric trams to operate in Northland. People can take the steam train down [one side of the park] then come back on the trams so they have the full experience."

- Northern Advocate

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