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There is now a central city loop heritage tram system, opened in 1995, and a tram museum at the Ferrymead Heritage Park with operating trams.
Christchurch Tramway Ltd operates a one-way tram circuit of the central city. This is mainly marketed as a tourist attraction, but local commuters can purchase an annual season ticket. Restored historic cars from New Zealand and Australia are used.
On 9 March 1880 the Canterbury Tramway Company started a steam tram service from the Square to the Station, using Kitson steam locomotives which could tow 6 to 8 trailers. Lines to Papanui, Addington, Sydenham and Woolston were opened by December. But horses were more suitable on the line to New Brighton run by the New Brighton Tramway Company than steam. The third company, the City and Suburban Tramway Company ran a horse tram through Linwood and Richmond to North Beach, and along the Esplanade to New Brighton. Competition and low fares forced the Canterbury Tramway Company into liquidation in 1893, to become the Christchurch Tramway Company.
The Christchurch Transport Board took over in 1905. The first line to be electrified was Papanui, opened on 6 June 1905. Most lines were electrified by 1912, and extensions were built into the 1920s, though some horse trams may have been in use into the 1930s.
Christchurch was renowned for its double-decker trailers, which snaked through Cathedral Square like a brood of ducklings following their mother. The largest of all 'decker trailers' was launched during the early years of the electric tramways in Christchurch as an experiment, being two open top trailers joined together. This jumbo-sized vehicle seated 92 passengers, and on race day it was not uncommon for it to carry 200 on both decks. Unofficially this trailer was known as Rotomahana after the well-known express steamer of the day. Officially it was known as a Class 60 Circular Fronted Brougham.
During the 1930s some long lines to more distant suburbs e.g. Richmond, Burwood and North Beach were closed. From 1950 on, all trams were gradually replaced by buses, and the last tram (to Papanui) ran on 11 September 1954.
In Christchurch several firms constructed trailers and horse-trams: Boon & Stevens (later Boon & Co), Moor and Sons, and Booth McDonald and Co.
A double-decker horsecar tram was built by William Moor & Son in November 1880 for the Canterbury Tramway Company, possibly the first built in New Zealand. The car was a facsimile of imported carriages; with ash framing, panelling of American whitewood, and roofs and window frames of oak and hickory. Brass fittings were supplied by Scott Brothers of Christchurch, and the only imported parts were the chilled cast-iron wheels. A contemporary report described the car as a most creditable specimen of local industry. The coachwork was equal to that of the American vehicles, and a much needed improvement had been made on the roof 'by the addition of a board running along the outside, for the special benefit of the female patronisers of the tramway'.
Boon and Co, of Ferry Road then St Asaph St, started with horse-trams for the New Brighton Company. From 1921 to 1926 they built 23 48-seater electric saloon trams (which could be coupled in pairs) for the Christchurch Tramway Board.
A distinctive feature of many Australasian trams was the drop-centre, a lowered central section between bogies (wheel-sets), to make passenger access easier by reducing the number of steps required to get inside of the vehicle. The trams made by Boon & Co in 1906-07 for Christchurch may have been the first with this feature; they were referred to as drop-centres or Boon cars. Trams for Christchurch and Wellington built in the 1920s with an enclosed section at each end and an open-sided middle section were also known as Boon cars, but did not have the drop-centre.
The End of the Penny Section: When Trams Ruled the Streets of New Zealand by Graham Stewart (1993, Grantham House Wellington) ISBN 186934037X