It's been four years of work but tomorrow a 1924 electric tram that first serviced passengers in Lisbon will take its first passengers at the Whangarei Museum and Heritage Park grounds.

Whangarei Steam and Model Railway Club was given two of the trams by the West Auckland Group of vintage machinery and building enthusiasts in February 2013 and club members have spent the past four years getting one of the trams ready for action and building a track for it to run on at the museum.

At 10am tomorrow the tram will be formally welcomed into service at the Museum and will take the public on trips along the line for the first time on Sunday.

Tram 520, as she is known, will be formally introduced to the public by Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai at the main station, Kiwinorth.


The tram was built in 1924. The body was built in Portugal while the chassis and electric motors came from the US. It weighs approx. 10 tons, is 9.5m long, seating capacity 28 with another 12 standing.

After 60 years use on the steep Lisbon tramlines it was withdrawn from service in the mid-80s. It and sister tram No 526 first went to Aspen, Colorado where they sat for 20 years in a paddock waiting for someone to overhaul them. Proof of this sojourn in the US can be found in the bullet holes still visible in No 526.

Tram enthusiasts then brought them to Henderson with the support of the then Waitakere city council and started to refit the body of No 520.

However the supercity lost interest in the project and the trams were offered free to the Whangarei Steam & Model Railway Club 5 years ago.

Trucking them to Whangarei cost several thousand dollars.

The most difficult challenge in bringing No 520 back into service was changing the Lisbon wheel gauge of 900mm to 1067mm, the regular NZ gauge. The underframe and motors were completely stripped and overhauled. The restoration of the bodywork as authentically as possible, was completed by a dedicated team from the club who put thousands of hours into the project over a four-year period.

The club also built, with the aid of a substantial Lotto grant, 900m of new track for the tram to run on through bush and across paddocks at the museum.

It was impractical to run overhead wires through the bush so power is provided by a diesel generator grafted onto a bogie towed by the tram. The number one driver will be Ray Sofio, who led the restoration team.