Should Melbourne Abandon Overhead Tram Lines?

27th October 2014

Marc Howe reports in Sourceable (27/10/14): 

Leading figures in both the rail industry and the sustainability and efficiency sector have recommended that Melbourne gradually dismantle the overhead wires that supply the city’s 250-kilometre tram system with power. ... Since the turn of the century, increases in the power density of supercapacitors have revolutionised the operation and design of modern tram systems, enabling them to dispense with overhead power lines completely. The latest supercapacitors developed in China are as small as milk cartons and can be readily installed beneath the floors or in the roofs of trams for rapid recharging at stops. ... The systems are far easier to build and incorporate into the often challenging terrain of urban environments by obviating the need for intrusive and unwieldy overhead infrastructure. The absence of overhead infrastructure also makes wireless systems much cheaper to build, and facilitates the planning and approval process. Although super capacitors are comparatively expensive at present, their costs are set to decline significantly in the near future."

Read the full article at:


Without wanting to denigrate advances in technologies it should be noted that the overhead lines serve an important role (along with the tram tracks) of helping to ‘mark the route’. I’m fortunate to live in ‘tram land’ in Melbourne and rather like the “intrusive and unwieldy overhead infrastructure”. Rails and overhead lines mean something will come along (eventually). Once when vaguely lost in the suburbs of Wellington, NZ, I was able to orientate myself when I came across the overhead lines (in that case trolley buses). By comparison I was amazed to see a bus stop on a quiet street in South Melbourne where I walk a lot. I’d never seen a bus on that road and nothing marks the route (apart from an insignificant and inadequate bus stop). Most Melbournians have a mental image of the train and tram routes (but bus routes a just a maze of spaghetti).


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