Unique horse-drawn trams saved!

Posted by Chris Graham on 5th April 2021

South Australia’s unique horse-drawn trams, and the 5ft 3in-gauge track on which they run, have just been saved, reports Hugh Dougherty.

Unique horse-drawn trams

Unique horse-drawn trams: The tram Granite Island, having travelled along the causeway (seen in the background) that link it to the mainland. (Pic: Hugh Dougherty)

This is the expected time when the South Australia Government completes a replacement of the existing, mile-long, causeway used by the trams, which links Granite Island with Victor Harbor, just along the coast from Goolwa, in South Australia. The project, worth AU$31.1m (around £17m), future-proofs the horse trams by providing them with a firm foundation for their track.

The existing, timber causeway on which the trams currently run dates from 1864, and was originally built as a pier. The tramway opened in 1894 and the causeway will be replaced by a new, concrete and steel structure, built beside the existing one, which will be demolished.

The horse tram depot at Victor Harbor, showing the 5ft 3in gauge track and the connection to the Steam Ranger station to the right. (Pic: Hugh Dougherty)

The popular, horse-tram service, which was closed in 1954 – but re-opened in 1986 using four replica horse trams – had to be suspended for six months in January 2019, after pylons supporting the decking collapsed into the sea.

A subsequent examination of the whole structure led the government to conclude that only outright replacement would guarantee the tramway’s ultimate survival and continued service, with work starting in 2021.

The trams, which share a track gauge with the erstwhile Great Northern Railway used by Ireland’s Fintona horse tram, are pulled by 14 Clydesdale horses, which rotate shifts throughout the day, while the line connects with the Steam Ranger Heritage Railway’s popular Cockle Train, linking Victor Harbor with Goolwa. The combined service offers tourists visiting the seaside resort rail travel by horse, diesel and steam power.

Unique horse-drawn trams

Horse tram No.1 starting its journey over the existing causeway, en-route to Granite Island. (Pic: Hugh Dougherty)

A local petition to refurbish the existing causeway, to preserve the character of the original, attracted 2,500 signatures, but the government concluded that refurbishment wouldn’t be viable, and that the new causeway would respect the heritage of the existing structure, especially as the horse-drawn trams will continue to run along its length.

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