Silver network in Brisbane

By staff writer of Truck and Bus Transportation Magazine, March 1953.

For a large portion of the northern capital’s commuter needs, the Brisbane City Council’s Transport Department provides most of the answers with 637 trams, buses and trolleybuses over a network of 289 route miles.

It does not handle all the city’s transport needs. There are suburban steam rail services to Ipswich, Kuraby, and Cleveland on the south side of the Brisbane River; and Mitchelton, Petrie, Sandgate, and Pinkenba on the north side. Private buses connect the city with Manly, Lota, Sandgate, Cribb Island, and Redcliffe (prior to 1947 private operators serviced most of the city-suburban routes now handled by BCC buses). There is also a number of privately-owned inter-suburban services. Cross-river traffic is carried by several small passenger launches which ply across the swift-following waters of the Brisbane river.

Private enterprise was primarily responsible for supplying the transport requirements of Brisbane right up till 1923. Horse trams were introduced to the city and suburban area by a private tramway company in 1885. These were supplanted by electric services in 1897. It was in this year that the Brisbane Tramway Co. was formed to take over operation of the electric lines, and this company built many extensions to the system to match the needs of the fast-growing city.

23 of Council’s diesel bus fleet pictured at the Milton depot during September 1950. Photo: Brisbane Telegraph


This method of control continued until 1923, when the tramways passed into the hands of the Brisbane Tramways Trust. But the life of this body proved to be short; two years later the greater Brisbane City Council was formed, and the tramways and all city transport became the concern of the Brisbane City Council Transport Department. When the public body took over in 1923, the fleet consisted of 195 trams. Today, 429 trams, 20 trolleybuses, 181 diesel and 12 petrol buses make up the rolling stock complement of the Department.

The Transport Department’s present fleet roster of 429 cars ranges from small open-sided 4-wheelers to the latest design of resiliently-mounted 64-seater R-class corridor car. Considerable investigation has been carried out in Brisbane with rubber-inserted tramway wheels and a large reduction in track noises has been made. This, coupled with the fact that much of the system’s tramway trackage is laid in concrete, makes the new R-type cars the most silent trams operating in Australia.

Eleven routes are operated as these run through the city, service on 22 lines is provided. Tramway activities are based in three depots at Ipswich Road, Light Street and Paddington. Each is a self-contained establishment with a complete depot staff, operating under the direction of the traffic manager’s office. Each has a night staff of cleaners and maintenance personnel, who attend to cleaning, inspecting and minor mechanical adjustments. All major repairs are carried out in the main workshops at Milton.

The tram services are through routed as follows:

  • Oriel Park and Doomben to Balmoral
  • Clayfield to Salisbury
  • Kalinga to Rainworth
  • Grange to Toowong
  • Chermside and Stafford to Bardon
  • Bulimba Ferry to Ashgrove
  • St Paul’s Terrace to Enoggera
  • West End to New Farm Park
  • Dutton Park to New Farm Wharf
  • Belmont, Cavendish Road and Mount Gravatt to Valley Junction

The route mileage for trams is 67 miles and the annual revenue mileage is 9,806,000.

Tram 437 pictured looking down on Adelaide Street from Wharf Street in 1949. Photo: Brisbane City Council


A new venture in Brisbane transport activities, and one which has proved highly successful is the operation of trolleybuses on two routes. The first, from Botanical Gardens to Gregory Terrace, was commenced in August 1951 and, though only 1.2 miles in length, has come up to full expectations. Several very steep surface grades in Upper Edward Street indicate that trolleybuses can adequately handle traffic on hilly routes. The revenue mileage for the first year’s operation was 127,000.

The second service was opened on 29 November 1952 and replaced the Prospect Terrace-Stanley Bridge diesel bus service. Over four miles in length, it runs through the city touching several important traffic points and crosses the Story Bridge. To operate these and future trolleybus extensions, the Council let a contract for 30 all-steel vehicles on Sunbeam chassis with 44-passenger bodies by local body builder Charles Hope Pty Ltd, and many modern innovations have been adapted in their design, including staggered seats. Over half of this order are already in service. All trolleybuses are garaged at the Milton workshops.

One of 30 all-steel vehicles on Sunbeam chassis with 44-passenger bodies by local builder Charles Hope Pty Ltd. Photo: Brisbane City Council


The Council did not launch out into bus activities for some considerable time after inception, and when they did, it was only in a small way. Their first services were operated in 1940 with a fleet rising to 18 vehicles by the end of the war, comprising 12 diesels, five “austerity” petrol models, and one Studebaker. In 1947, the Council applied, under the terms of the State Transport Facilities Act of 1946, for control of 20 privately-owned metropolitan licences.

These services ran from the city to suburban termini at East Brisbane, Moorooka, Teneriffe, Wilston, Hendra, Doomben, Thompson Estate, Birdwood Terrace, Taringa, Tarragindi, Swann Road, Indooroopilly, Norman Park, Everton Park, Toowong, Ashgrove, Pinkenba, Dornoch Terrace, Yeerongpilly and Yeronga. These services were gradually acquired during the ensuing 12 months and additional new and current licences were taken over until at the present moment over 30 routes are operated.

Council’s bus activities offer a well integrated and compact coverage of many of the inner and outer suburbs of Brisbane, served in all by 33 routes, totalling 222 route miles. The Department operates 193 buses, all but 12 of which are diesel-powered A.E.C.s, Albions and Daimlers with bodies constructed by local builders.

The Department’s buses operate out of three depots at Milton, Ipswich Road and Light Street. The two first-name depots are equipped to handle servicing work and light repairs. The depot at Light Street is divided into two sections, one of which is similar to the other locations in that only servicing work is carried out, and the other is the major overhauling workshop. This section is equipped with pits in which hydraulic hoists operate for the removal of engines, gearboxes, rear axle assemblies and other heavy components. All major engine and chassis repairs, body repairs, reconditioning of worn parts and tyre repairs are carried out. Also included in the equipment at Light Street is a small machine shop for non-repetitive lathe work, but all repetitive work and other miscellaneous work is handled by the main workshops at Milton.

All buses are refuelled, inspected for mechanical defects and cleaned out at night. Practically all bus storage is out-of-doors. Injector and fuel pump maintenance is concentrated at a special section at Light Street, where the latest machinery and equipment for this highly specialised work is located.

One of 15 A.E.C. Regal III buses bodied by Athol Hedges Pty Ltd of Northgate between November 1951 and November 1952. Photo: Athol Hedges Pty Ltd


The life history of each vehicles is readily available from an index system. On these cards, all items of maintenance and records are noted. A further extension from this system allows separate records for tyre mileages, fuel consumption, brake lining mileages, etc. At the completion of each night shift, the foreman mechanic at each depot provides the early despatcher with a vehicle availability list and from this buses are allotted to various routes. Platform staff rostering is arranged by the timetables section of the traffic branch.

Fare collection methods in Brisbane are interesting and for a large organisation such as this, have been extensively developed along mechanical lines. The greater percentage of buses are “one-man” operated, using the “pay-enter” system. On certain heavily-loaded routes, conductors or conductresses are employed and are equipped with Ultimate ticket machines as well as charge dispensers. On a number of longer “one-man” routes, buses are fitted with T.I.M. ticket machines.

At the end of shifts, drivers and conductors complete a ticket waybill, which is balanced against actual takings, and hand unsold tickets, waybill and cash in a sealed bag to the depot master, who initials and places it in a locked box. These are collected early the following morning and taken to the revenue section of head office, where all returns are checked.

Working schedules are arranged on a basis of an average running time of twelve miles per hour with approximately eight stops to the mile. standing time at termini averages around the five minutes’ mark, though this varies according to running times and frequencies.

The Council is troubled with one of the problems of all mass transit operators – a heavy layover of vehicles during the off-period period. In Brisbane, this figure is 59% of the total buses in service.

Part of Council’s tram fleet pictured at Ipswich Road depot at Buranda on 26 March 1949. Photo: Brisbane City Council


The Department makes strong efforts to encourage private hiring of buses for charter work and considerable revenue is received from this source. For a time concession fares were allowed during off-peak periods, but this did not noticeably increase the number of passengers carried.

Other fare inducements provided by the Council are weekly tickets and Sunday excursion tickets. The former are available from Mondays to Saturdays and entitle the holder to one trip in each direction daily. The concession amounts to between 25% and 28.7% of ordinary fares. Sunday excursion tickets are available to the public at a fare of 3/ for adults or 9d for children. They may be used for two periods during the day – 8:00am to 1:00pm and 1:00pm to 6:00pm. Holders of these tickets are allowed unlimited travel on all routes during the period in which the tickets are issued. All ordinary fares are constant; there are no surcharges for weekend or night travel. Revenue mileage of the bus system in 1951-52 was 3,996,000.

An interesting point about the Brisbane transport system is the high percentage of children’s fares out of the total number of passengers carried. The following list shows the percentage of total passengers for each fare denomination and from it can be seen that 1d fares amounted to over 24.5% of the total.

Percentage of total passengers for each fare denomination
2/0d Concession109,3160.39%
4/6d Weekly56,8680.20%

In order to man the Department’s fleet of over 600 vehicles, a platform staff of 1552 are employed. Maintenance crews total 885, and supervisory officers another 133. In the clerical branch there are 164 with 5 executives; miscellaneous employees total 231.

The 1951-52 figures for the total revenue passengers carried by the three forms of transport are as follows:


The figure shown for trolleybuses will indicate how popular this mode of travel has become in just over 18 months, as this total was recorded from a service a fraction more than a mile long. This augers well for the success of trolleybus development in Brisbane.

Operating results of the Department over the past six years have been highly successful and from the years 1945/6 to 1948/49, profit on operations was realised. For the years 1949/50 and 1950/51, losses were incurred; but for both years large sums were set aside for the concreating of tram tracks. The operating figures are shown in the following table:

1949/50£67,519 (including £63,941 for concreted tracks)
1950/51£79,571 (including £71,771 for concreted tracks)

Contributions of cash surpluses to the City Fund up to 30 June 1951, have amounted to £1,586,451. Some idea of the amount of capital outlaid in the Council’s bus services is given by the fact that the total investment on vehicles amounts to £1,057,000, whilst plant and machinery investment adds up to £13,500, and buildings £162,440, giving a gross figure of £1,232,940.