Looking Back at the Paddington Tram Depot Fire 60 Years Ago

One of Brisbane’s largest fires in history occurred 60 years ago when the Paddington Tram Depot fire destroyed 67 trams, more than 20 per cent of the city’s entire fleet. Here’s a look back.

In the early evening of 28 Sept 1962, residents near the two-storey depot alerted the staff about sparks underneath the facility. Though the actual site where the fire started was never determined, many believed that the spark came from the storage area.

Photo Credit: BCC

Whilst waiting for the firefighters, some of the staff attempted to drive the trams out of the site and at least three were rescued before the fire eventually cut the electricity.

Firefighters were challenged to control the blaze due to very low water pressure. It did not help that the Paddington Tram Depot had heaps of tyres, oil and grease as well, due to the nature of its operation.

Photo Credit: National Library of Australia

As the fire progressed, it was becoming clearer that the building would collapse and can no longer be saved. Thus, the local fighters shifted their focus to ensure that the blaze will not impact neighbouring homes and buildings. Dozens of residents packed their belongings within a flash and evacuated away from the site.

Firefighters called to the scene recalled that the depot continued to smoke and burn for over a week.

Photo Credit: BCC

Unfortunately, the trams and the depot were not insured and various conspiracy theories snowballed about its fate. Prior to the fire, plans have been discussed to replace the trams with buses from private operators. 

Paddington Tram Depot Fire
Photo Credit: National Library of Australia

A year after the Paddington Tram Depot fire, however, tram lines in Bulimba, Kalinga, Rainworth, and Toowong were switched to bus routes. Brisbane City Council had to ask help from New South Wales Transport Department for additional buses. 

The tram system officially ended in April 1969. The former Paddington Tram Depot, on the hand, was sold and redeveloped as Paddington Central in the 1980s. 

Paddington Central
The Paddington Tram Depot site in 1974, a few years before the construction of Paddington Central
Photo Credit: BCC

Meanwhile, the Brisbane Tramway Museum in Ferny Grove has commemorated the Paddington Tram Depot fire every year. The museum’s vice president, Peter Hyde, believes that it’s still important to keep the history of Brisbane’s tram system alive. 

“People enjoy reliving the time of their parents and grandparents,” Mr Hyde said in a radio interview. “They can see how these past events have led to the nature of the city at the present time and possibly give an indication of how the city will continue to develop in the future.” 

Remembering the Paddington Tram Depot Fire

In 2018, Paddington commemorates the 56th anniversary of the Paddington Tram Depot fire, a crucial point in history that marked the beginning of the end for the Brisbane Tramway system.

The Paddington Tram Depot under construction

Photo credit: PDM/Wikimedia Commons

The Paddington Tram depot was built in 1915 servicing western suburbs and a total of 13 roads. The depot was constructed on the side of the hill on Latrobe Terrace in Paddington using timber and corrugated iron panels.

On 28 September 1962, the Paddington tram depot was engulfed by a terrible fire. It was to be one of the largest fires in Brisbane’s history. That fateful night, the destructive fire devoured sixty-five trams; that’s a fifth of the Brisbane Tramways Company’s tram fleet.

Fire aftermath

Photo credit: Lost Brisbane/Facebook

The fire was believed to have started in a storage area. About 30 firefighters attempted to control the fire but was hindered by low water pressure. Deposits of oil and grease from years of operation continued fueling the blaze that was visible from its nearby suburbs. Despite the firefighters’ heroic efforts, the depot was completely destroyed by the fire that lasted for almost a week.

Video credit: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services/YouTube

That fire did not only bring destruction but it also marked the beginning of the end for the tram system in Brisbane. Conspiracy theories about what really started the fire surfaced since it happened at a time when plans about replacing the trams and trolleybuses with diesel units were already brewing.

Despite a huge investigation, the cause of the fire was not determined. In December 1962, four tram routes were closed. Kalinga Toowong, Bulimba Ferry, and Rainworth were converted into bus operation routes. The City Council hired buses from the New South Wales government to mitigate the situation.

In June 1968, the Brisbane City Council made an announcement about the impending closure of the tramways. Ultimately, the tram system closed in April 1969 with the bus operations replacing all of the former tram routes.

Restored Tramcars

Photo credit: Brisbane Tramway Museum/Facebook

After a public consultation following the announcement of the closure of the tramways, the Brisbane Tramway Museum Society was created to preserve a representative number of the tramcars. In 1972, Ferny Grove became the official site of the Brisbane Tramway Museum which opened to the public in 1980.

The site where the depot once stood was sold by the City Council. Today, it is home to the Paddington Central Shopping Centre.