Heritage trams pull Kiwi to city

NEW JOB ON TRACK: Andy Rowe is one of two new staffers at Bendigo Tramways. The New Zealander moved to Bendigo for the job opportunity. Picture: NONI HYETT

NEW JOB ON TRACK: Andy Rowe is one of two new staffers at Bendigo Tramways. The New Zealander moved to Bendigo for the job opportunity. Picture: NONI HYETT

Andy Rowe was in a tram barn working when the 2011 Christchurch earthquake struck. 

He ended up in Cathedral Square, at the heart of the city, to get all the trams and the drivers back during the aftershock.

“I was still in the centre of town right up until the end of the day, until the police kicked us out,” Mr Rowe said. 

“It was a bit serious.”

He saw the spire of the ChristChurch Cathedral in Cathedral Square fall down.

“And then the building beside that,” Mr Rowe said. 

Bloodied and dust-covered people are among his recollections of the magnitude 6.3 earthquake on February 22, 2011, which claimed 185 lives.

“The tram tracks and the tram building itself sustained damage,” Mr Rowe said. 

“There was a horse stables right next door… that collapsed and fell through the window of the building, smashed in half the side of the building.

“Because we were the engineers for the tramway, we went back in the week after, when when the whole area was closed down, shifted all the trams and moved them out of the city.

“We got back in right after the earthquake.”

Work for the Christchurch contractor became scarce in the wake of the earthquake.

“So I sold my business – that’s half the reason I’m here,” Mr Rowe said. 

He and Bendigo man Geoff Houlden started working at Bendigo Tramways late last year. 

Mr Rowe is the supervisor of heritage rolling stock and infrastructure, while Mr Houlden is the team leader of the engineering department.

Both spoke of a love for the diversity of the work at Bendigo Tramways. 

While some of the tram types Mr Rowe finds himself working on in Bendigo are familiar, others are new to him.

He’s part of the team working to restore the 101-year-old J Class Tram Number 7.

An online campaign has raised almost $21,000 of the $30,000 needed to get one of the city’s rarest trams back on the tracks.

For Mr Houlden, the job at Bendigo Tramways was different to the work he’d done professionally for about 39 years.

He said he had always had an interest in historic modes of transport.

“I build old cars, hot rods and that sorts of stuff… old stuff has an attraction to me,” he said. 

“That’s what everybody said when I was going to work at the tramways – ‘You’d fit right in down there!’

“It’s not much different – it’s pulling things apart, checking it out, making sure it’s right, fixing it and putting it back together again.”

One of the greatest challenges in his role, Mr Houlden said, was updating the information available to the team to increase productivity and efficiency.

“The drawings we get from Yarra Trams haven’t got enough information on them,” Mr Houlden said.

“A lot of the guys here, that have been here since the start, are relying on their memory to make all the stuff and we’re just updating the drawings as we go from what they remember.

“That’s the biggest challenge at the moment.

“Every time we start a different step or a different process on the tram they go, ‘On the last one we did this.’”

So the team writes down the information, marks up the drawings and continues.

Mr Houlden’s team contains four people, and has about five years of work ahead of it on the Yarra Trams project. 

“We’ve got two [trams] here at the moment and another four to do after that,” he said. 

“We’ve got to do the next lot [of trams] in a shorter period of time so we’re going to have to do things smarter.”