The recent discovery of the old tram tracks around Church Square sent a vibe of eager heritage consciousness through not only armchair historians, but also the city council.
So much so, that Tshwane metro made it clear that although the establishment of the A Re Yeng rapid bus service is high up on their priority list, they are quite prepared to extend the completion thereof until all the tracks have been lifted to street level so that it can be displayed as part of Pretoria’s history of Transport.
Blessing Manale, spokesperson for Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa of the Tshwane metro, said that the city council was quite excited about the discovery of the tracks and water channels discovered around Church Square.
”Right from the beginning in the design and excavation of ground to make place for the A Re Yeng the council had a heritage consultant on board. With the discovery of these tracks the council members were all in agreement that this should be preserved. This obviously means that some redesign had to take place of the A Re Yeng around Church Square and that the completion date of it has to be extended,” Manale said.
The discovery of the tram tracks, which surprisingly, is still in good condition, highlighted some aspects of the Capital City’s early days of transport.
Public transport in Pretoria began in 1897. The Pretoria Tramway Company started with eight trams and 50 horses. When the horses were needed during the Boer War the service temporally came to a standstill. After the war it was resumed again in July 1903 and there were short and long trams, all pulled by horses. Each tram had two operation stations – fore and aft and each station there was a bell to warn pedestrian of the approach of a tram.
On 2 November 1910, 14 electric trams replaced the horse trams. The Tram Shed was completed in 1912. Routes were set out from Church Square to the Pretoria Station, the Zoo, Sunnyside, Pretoria West, and the ‘Ou Volks-Hospitaal’. Much later a track was laid to the Union Buildings. The first tram went to Sunnyside and the last trip from Van der Walt Street was made on 19 August 1939. The route was 14.8km long and it used 21.6km of tram tracks.
Courtenay Smithers of Pretoria, related in his writing about the early days in Pretoria some noteworthy aspect about the electric trams.
”There were, in fact, rattly old trams which ran to the Union Buildings but they ran along Leyds Street to and from Church Street where they connected with trams from Church Square, at the centre of town. For most of the day (and only on working days, if I remember correctly) there was only one tram which made the short run from Church Street to the Union Buildings and back, a small one which could carry only half the number of passengers which the usual ‘big’ trams could carry. This small tram ran along Leyds Street to Vermeulen Street and then wound its way up the hill to join the road which ran along in front of the Union Buildings.
Now there is a road that follows the curving route up the hill where the little tram took its slow climb up the hill, making a whining noise in its low gear. Keeping up with the struggling tram was easy for us. In those days the tram line passed between the pine trees of the plantation that grew on the hillside.
“At peak passenger times, when the office workers arrived and left the Union Buildings, the small tram was supplemented by a couple of big trams to provide enough space to cope with the extra passengers to and from Church Street where they could catch trams which took them into town and elsewhere,” he wrote.