Sydney Weed Burning Tram

Sydney Weed Burning Tram

On the 16th of April 1956 a unique, small vehicle emerged from the tramway workshops in Randwick. Mounted on a Sydney Number 4 bogie from a withdrawn O class tram was a vehicle designed to solve the problem of overgrown, weed infested reserved track.

Up until that point the use of flamethrowers back burning the weeds by hand had been an expensive but necessary task. Tests were conducted where oxy-acetylene equipment was mounted to the rear of a scrubber tram and weeds were back burned from the moving vehicle. Unfortunately due to the vibration and rocking motion of the 4 wheel trams it proved difficult to keep the flame aligned. It was therefore decided to mount the equipment on a more stable platform separate from the tram. Built to design of Inspector R. Hudson of the per-way section, this simple vehicle sped up the whole process reducing the cost dramatically.

The vehicle was given the number 144s and was the last piece of rolling stock to be built for the tramways in Sydney. It weighed 3.5 tons and measured 9ft 10in in length. Mounted on the vehicle were 6 gas bottles on one side and 5 on the other to allow space for the operator at the front left hand side of the vehicle. Burners were mounted at the front of the vehicle and could burn strips up to 6 inches wide either side of the rail without overheating the rail itself.

The operator could adjust the mixture of oxygen and acetylene when the vehicle crossed special track work or areas which could be damaged by the flames such as wooden bridges.

The vehicle was designed to be either propelled or towed and this was usually done with a scrubber car. The vehicle was used 3 times a year for a period of 15 days and most work was concentrated around the Eastern to South-Eastern suburbs where long expanses of open ballasted track existed. The many sidings and lines at the showground were also a common site to see the weed burner in action.

The weed burner remained in active service on the tramways of Sydney right up until the closure in 1961. Fortunately the vehicle was donated to the Sydney Tramway Museum on the 17th of March, 1961 where you can now inspect the vehicle every Wednesday and Sunday at Loftus.


New South Wales Tramcar Handbook 1861-1961 Part one, K. McCarthy, N. Chinn, South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society Limited, Sydney, 1975.

Destination Circular Quay, A pictorial review of Sydney Tramcars, J. Richardson, Traction Publications, Canberra, 1967.
Sydney Tramway Museum, Handbook of exhibits, South Pacific Electric Railway, Sydney, 1986.
Guide to the South Pacific Electric Railway, SPER, 1965.
Sydney Tramway Museum, Visitor Souvenir, South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society Limited, 2004.


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