NotesSteam trams were introduced into Sydney in 1879 and their popularity ensured a rapid extension of routes to nearby suburbs. In North Sydney, however, since steam trams and horse trams could not be used on the steep grades leading up from the Milsons Point ferry terminus, another system was required. Following the North American example, cable traction was adopted, the first practical application of which was made in 1873 on the steep hills of San Francisco, where this type of tram is still in operation.
The operating principle of cable trams involved the movement of an endless cable at constant speed in a shallow channel between the rails. The cable was pulled by a steam winding engine in a winder house and the trams were of two types, the grip car and the trailer. On the grip car, the driver or gripman operated the tram with two levers: one was like an iron hand which gripped the cable below, through a slit in the floor of the car, while the other lever was a brake.
Between 1883 and 1885 the NSW Railway Commissioners acquired land on the corner of Ridge and Miller Streets, North Sydney, to build a cable-tram terminus and depot. The site fell steeply away at the rear, enabling the powerhouse to be located at basement level and the brick car shed at road level above. A traverser in the street entrance enabled tramcars to be manually turned in and out of the shed. The power-generating equipment to haul the cable comprised two John Fowler & Co. steam winding engines and two 90 psi boilers driving a 10 foot diameter drum with a cable speed of 8 miles per hour.
The North Shore Cable Tramway Service was officially opened on 22 May 1886 by the Governor, Lord Carrington, and the Premier, Sir Henry Parkes. Operating from the Milsons Point ferry wharves, the route covered Alfred, Junction, Blue and Miller Streets and terminated near the tram shed.
The depot was altered and extended prior to the opening of the line to Crows Nest in 1893 and new steam engines and boilers were installed. The cable haulage gear ceased to operate in 1900 with the installation of electric generating equipment and an electric substation in the depot basement. Electric tram cars then replaced the cable trams. Three years later a submarine cable was laid under Sydney Harbour to bring electricity from Ultimo power station, now the Museum, and the generating equipment was removed.
Once a new electric tram depot was established at Neutral Bay all the tramcars were removed there in 1909 and the North Sydney depot closed. It was subsequently converted into a variety theatre and eventually became the Independent Theatre.
Simpson, Margaret, 'Old Sydney Buildings: A Social History', Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, NSW, pp.183-4.