Kalgoorlie Boulder Trams

Kalgoorlie Boulder is the site of the famous "Golden Mile". After the initial goldrush phase, it soon became clear that the Golden Mile contained an enormous amount of gold, which could be extracted by underground mining, leading to the formation of mining companies and a permanent population.

This led to the development of civic infrastructure, suburbs and the need for public transport. Railways and tramways were both to play a part in the public transport system of the area. The Kalgoorlie Electric Tramways Limited was formed to build and operate tramways in Kalgoorlie and Boulder. This company had close links with the Perth Electric Tramways Limited, but unlike the Perth situation, the Kalgoorlie operation was to remain privately owned for most of its life.

The tramways began operation in May 1902. The trams ran along Burt Street, out to Fimiston (the Boulder Block) via the subway, Lane St, Hopkins St, Vivian St and into Kalgoorlie and Hannan Street along Maritana Street ending at the Tower Hotel.

In early 1903, the first electric tram was ordered from Philadelphia. Tramcars came in two sizes and were remarkable in their speed. The small trams were four-wheeled with two motors, the large double bogeyed and had four motors.

The smaller trams could travel 30 miles per hour, the larger trams could reach 45 miles per hour and had electric lights. Customers could attach their bicycles to the rope cowcatcher on the front of the tram and their prams were stored at the back. The small trams relied on the strength of the ‘motor man’, as the driver was known, to stop the tram by using a winding hand brake.

The larger trams pulled carriages, called ‘dummies’. Dummies were attached to the tram during shift change on the mines. On race days or football finals, three or four dummies transported large crowds. The larger trams were controlled by air brakes, with hand brakes for emergencies.

After the 1914 to 1918 War, many soldiers did not return to the district. Alluvial gold deposits had been worked out and the many retrenchments caused further population decline. Many houses in the outer suburbs were sold for use on farms, leaving a scattered population. As a result, many of the lines to these suburbs, regarded as "branch" lines, were closed, leaving just the core lines within and between the twin towns. A revival of the gold mining industry in about 1930, led to a revival of the tramways. The operating concession was extended by fifteen years, and many trams were renovated, with platforms being enclosed and some bodies being completely dismantled and rebuilt.

However, in 1936, another tram route was closed when it was found to be too expensive to extend the Boulder Block line from Fimiston to Chaffers. Instead a bus service was introduced, also replacing the trams on the Kamballie - Fimiston and Boulder Racecourse tram lines.

After the 1939 to 1945 War, which temporarily brought more life to the town, the need for trams was reduced to peak hours and miners' specials only. The Kalgoorlie Electric Tramways company was taken over in 1949 by the Eastern Goldfields Transport Board, which closed the system on March 10, 1952.


Photo courtesy of Eastern Goldfields Historical Society


Photo courtesy of Eastern Goldfields Historical Society


Photo courtesy of Eastern Goldfields Historical Society

 

Kalgoorlie Trains

In the last few years of the 19th Century, Kalgoorlie was more important to the economy of Western Australia than Perth. In 1895, two years after Paddy Hannan discovered gold in Kalgoorlie, the rail was laid from Perth and later continued to Boulder in 1897.

The Goldfields were very busy then, with more people arriving every day with the railway being their main transport to work. As many as 100 trains a day, consisting of steam locos pulling up to ten Gilbert carriages, ran through Boulder, carrying miners to their shifts.

Even up to 1916, there were more trains daily from Kalgoorlie to Boulder than from Perth to Fremantle. Freight, boilers, compressors and winder motors were shipped from England to Fremantle, and then railed here.

The main freight, however, was timber for underground mine supports, as well as firewood for the various steam engines and water condensers. A network of timber railways ran out into the bush, where three thousand men were housed in temporary camps, cutting ten thousand tonnes of wood per week and sending it in on light rail to the Loopline.

In 1902, the line was continued from Kamballie to Trafalgar, Brown Hill, Hill End, and Hannan Street to complete the loop. This was known as the Outer Circle. This Station, called Boulder City, had five lines and an island platform.

There were overhead footbridges at each end of the platform and a pedestrian subway, which led onto Burt Street. A staff of twelve manned Boulder Station and there were eleven other Stations on the 18 kilometre run around the full loop.

The Loopline was originally planned as an ore tramway, even before the line reached Kalgoorlie. In 1896, the line was extended to the suburb of Williamstown, before it was decided to make a diversion to Boulder and around to Kamballie to the southeast.

The mine managers were furious, maintaining that their crushings were sustaining the whole colony. The merchants and the people of Boulder felt that they deserved priority, as it was their labour that produced the gold. The mines won, and in 1897 the line was laid as far as the southern end of Lakeview. This formed the Inner Circle railway between Hannan Street, Boulder City and Kamballie. The mines, much to their disappointment, had to put in their spurs and sidings at their own cost.

To the north of Boulder City Station lay the Golden Gate Station. This was the busiest Station in Australia in the early 1900s, being the distribution point for the mines in Boulder. Two Stationmasters with porters, guards and office staff handled a train every ten minutes. There were brick Station buildings, four passenger lines, a subway, a large signal box and freight traffic marshalling yards for the extensive mining activity nearby.

Although gold mining was a protected industry during the First World War, many men had left the Goldfields to fight in Europe and the mining and woodline activities slowed down. The Depression of 1930 was strongly felt in the Goldfields and the Hannan Street to Kamballie Loop was abandoned in the same year.

This closed the following stations: Williamstown, Croesus, Brown Hill, Hill End, Trafalgar and Kamballie. The railway was reduced to mostly carrying cargo, transporting woodline products and general goods to and from mines and towns.

In 1955, Boulder City and Trafalgar were closed as staff and ticket stations. Goods trains operated to Kamballie and in the 1970’s, only one oil train ran daily. For a time, a railcar called the “Tin Hare” travelled between Boulder and Kalgoorlie stopping at all the railway sidings and rail crossings, but when Westrail closed all non-standard lines east of Merredin, the railway was handed over to the mines.

Today, the Boulder City Station now runs as the Loopline Railway Museum, open to the public daily from 9:00am to 2:00pm. For a gold coin donation, take a look back at the history of the Loopline from the many exhibits that have been donated by local people or from the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society. 

 

Photo-courtesy-of-Golden-Mile-Loopline-Railway-Society-3 Photo courtesy of Golden Mile Loopline Railway Society

Photo-courtesy-of-Golden-Mile-Loopline-Railway-Society-1-1
Photo courtesy of Golden Mile Loopline Railway Society

Photo-courtesy-of-Golden-Mile-Loopline-Railway-Society-2
Photo courtesy of Golden Mile Loopline Railway Society