Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Some holiday reading: Train and tram history

Not a full post today but I wanted to refer you to the excellent https://www.victorianrailways.net/ website. 

This has more reading than you'd ever find here. 

If you're into Victorian Railways history the most important link is the timeline at https://www.victorianrailways.net/vr%20history/history.html

Not only is the information there handy but also the scanned copies of annual reports and VR newsletters. Archives of the latter exist for the 55 years from 1924 to 1979. This spans a period from when suburban electrification was new almost up to when suburban patronage and service levels reached rock-bottom a couple of years later. 

Something else I want to refer you to is The Bellcord from the Melbourne Tram Museum. This very professional quarterly magazine has some great historical articles. I wasn't able to find a page with links to all issues. However the latest (December 2021) is at https://www.hawthorntramdepot.org.au/downloads/bellcord/bc-052.pdf . If you want to see earlier issues just paste the abovementioned URL into your browser and change the issue number. All issues are online, going back to 001 from July 2007. 

It should be noted that whether it's scanning old magazines or writing historical articles for current publications, the job of making the past alive to current and future generations falls predominantly on volunteers - both as individuals and via various groups.

The old proud (but arguably a touch arrogant!) outfits like VR and MMTB constantly communicated their history  through staff newsletters and the like. Modern management practices, including the recruitment of non-transport people to executive positions, the scrapping of a visible internal library function and foreign franchising has pretty much hollowed out the 'corporate memory' in organisations such as the Department of Transport. Continuity is now mainly confined to the older middle level specialists in some organisations and the remaining few family bus operators.  

If you want your transport history you can not necessarily expect today's providers to be consistently good custodians of it. Voluntary societies play an essential role in preserving and articulating our transport history and we'd be stuck without them. Although more creative types in say the premier's office or a major construction authority might occasionally draw on it for their social media. 

History isn't only worthwhile for its own sake. It is also essential for planning, evaluation and debate today. For instance, when discussing the merit of infrastructure projects and whether slicker operating practices could unlock capacity at lower cost, the late Paul Mees used 1929 timetables to press his view that our rail system could handle many more trains than ran at the time (15 or 20 years ago). Similarly some themes have been recurring for the better part of a century, for instance congested level crossings and that a past removal program was wound down as road builders favoured freeways and widened arterials from their budgets.

When you are next waiting for a tram, reflect on the fact that your grandparents probably waited only half as long as more frequent service was then the rule and we have yet to fully recover from 1960s sevice cuts. We only know that through history like documented here. And certain crises, such as happened 70 years ago with buses have echoes today if not here then elsewhere. 

So transport history is important. Read it! 

PS: For even more see my web history of public transport in Melbourne. Also information sources here will prove valuable for researchers, historical or otherwise. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The full list of all Bellcord past issues can be found at this page: https://www.hawthorntramdepot.org.au/bellcord.htm