The Hedley-Doyle "stepless" car

The Perth Electric Tramway Society carbarn at Whiteman Park contains the remains of a notable development in tramway history - the initial concept of the low-floor tramcar.

Access and mobility issues over the last twenty years have seen the introduction and refinement of low-floor tramcar designs, but the story started over 100 years ago, in New York. The idea that level boarding would improve safety and speed up the service led, in 1912, to a new design for a tramcar body radically different from anything previously seen - the Hedley-Doyle Stepless Streetcar.

Hedley-Doyle Low-floor Car Exterior
Hedley-Doyle low-floor car - exterior features.

Designed by Frank Hedley and JS Doyle of the New York Railways Company, the car featured a low centre entrance, 25 cm [10 inches] above rail height. There were no internal steps - just a slight slope upwards towards the ends of the car. The electrical and mechanical equipment was redesigned and repositioned to fit in with the design of the body.

Hedley-Doyle Low-floor Car Interior Plan
Hedley-Doyle low-floor car - interior layout.

A double-decker car and a single-truck battery-operated version were also produced.

Over 300 of the type were built, largely in the years 1912 to 1914. Most were used in New York, but some were used in several other cities in the USA and Canada. Two examples came to Australia - to Brisbane and Perth.

Despite the inital enthusiasm, various operational problems were found and most of the cars had a service life of less than 10 years. It has taken a further 80 years to develop the low-floor concept and put it into widespread use. Only with more recent developments of technology have practical and reliable low-floor cars been developed.

The one notable exception to the short service life - and by many years - was Perth's I 63.

[A full account of these cars can be found in the book The Hedley-Doyle Stepless Streetcar - 80 Years Ahead Of Its Time (Henry Elsner, Jr, 1997)].

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Perth's stepless car I 63

Perth Tram 63 Hedley-Doyle Barrack St
Perth 63 on route 18 in Barrack St, heading south to the terminus at the Jetty.

The presence of a Hedley-Doyle car in Perth, its use in service extending so many years longer than its contemporaries, and its ultimate survival, form a remarkable story.

Acquisition

The presence of tram 63 in Perth is intimately connected with political change in Western Australia at the time.

In 1911 John Scaddan became Premier of Western Australia - the first Australian to lead a State Labor Party government with a substantial majority [34 to 16]; his government's main strength lay in the goldfields and metropolitan working-class areas. Scaddan's policy was to develop Western Australia's economy by establishing [or purchasing] "state trading concerns", especially where private enterprise was proving unsatisfactory. Under this policy the state came to own and run such things as hotels, a quarry, brickworks, the State Shipping Service, building supplies and a meatworks.

Even many opponents of this policy felt that the privately owned Perth tramway system was giving such poor service that they encouraged the government to nationalise it. Having done so, the government was keen to make it more reliable, extend it and modernise it - this led to car 63 being puchased during an overseas trip by the Premier, and its arrival in Perth to begin service in 1914.

Service history

Perth I 63 entered service in 1914. It was the only Hedley-Doyle car with an internal step, over the bogies. This was necessary because the narrow Perth track gauge, compared with that in New York, did not allow sufficient room for the wheels to swing underneath the car.

Perth Tram 63 Hedley-Doyle Car Barn
Perth 63 in original body form.

Soon after entering service, the two 37 hp motors were replaced by 70 hp ones - but the car was found to be slow and cumbersome, and inclined to damage the tracks. Its low ground clearance made it unable to go around certain corners in the system, so the routes it could be used on were restricted.

In the late 1940s the body was partly rebuilt. The original roof-mounted destination box was replaced by one incorporated in the top of the centre cab window. The external motorman's access door was removed, and replaced by an internal one cut through into the end of the saloon.

Perth Tram 63 Hedley-Doyle Front
Front view of #63, showing original configuration.

Perth Tram 63 Hedley-Doyle Car Barn
Side view of #63, showing alterations.

Survival

The survival and continued use of Perth 63 until the 1950s was not due to any outstanding performance. Additionally, a "one-of-a-kind", its presence as a non-standard member of the fleet would have been difficult for maintenance and in operation.

The economic climate in which the Perth tramways operated - wars, depression - produced a make-do approach. Several of the later bogie cars - desperately needed - could only be constructed by re-using equipment from scrapped C-class cars. This need to make full use of resources ensured that #63 remained a necessary part of the fleet for an extended period.

Preservation
Perth Tram 63 Hedley-Doyle Caraven Park #63 in retirement at a caravan park.

The Perth Electric Tramway Society recovered the body of #63 from a caravan park in the south of the state after many years of open storage, which continued until the move to Whiteman Park in 1983. Since then further deterioration in its condition has been prevented by covered enclosed storage.

Restoration

Preliminary steps towards the restoration of #63 are currently being taken. Its largely metal construction - unlike the other tram bodies in the Society's collection - will present technical and financial challenges.

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