Wellington's beloved cable car faced opposition when first proposed

An early shot of the Wellington cable car station in Kelburn shortly after the service opened in 1902.
ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY

An early shot of the Wellington cable car station in Kelburn shortly after the service opened in 1902.

IT IS hard to imagine Wellington without the cable car. Everyone loves it - but the city's favourite red rattler was rooted in cold hard business, rather than sentiment, when it opened in 1902.

Back then, the hilltop suburb it serves was often spelled "Kelburne". It had been opened up for development by the Upland Estate Company in the 1890s, and the developers were the first to propose building the cable car line.

Similar cable cars were being built in hilly cities across the world, including the Peak Tram in Hong Kong, and it was felt to be the best way to connect the bottom to the top of the hill.

KEEPING WATCH: Cable car founder Martin Kennedy's house, in Glasgow Terrace, overlooks the line in the early days. The ...
ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY

KEEPING WATCH: Cable car founder Martin Kennedy's house, in Glasgow Terrace, overlooks the line in the early days. The photographer took the opportunity to get an opportunity to get an advert for his employer, EW Mills, into the shot.

Some of the businessmen involved in the Kelburne developments - led by Martin Kennedy, who owned land in Salamanca Rd - formed the Kelburne and Karori Tramway Company and, after some wrangles with government and the council, began construction in 1900.

There is apparently an old story that it was built with prison labour, but the cable car official history says this is not true.

It was supposed to be finished the following year, but it was badly delayed. Many people living close to it were also annoyed about the works.

The Evening Post reported on some of the court cases launched by the cable car's neighbours - turn-of-the-century nimbys.

Engineers JP Maxwell and JE Fulton were able to deflect most of the criticism, but it still had to pay out hundreds of pounds to the disaffected landowners.

While the build was going on, the benefits of life in Kelburne were extolled in a series of advertisement columns.

"Kelburne will not be one of those suburbs which have all the disadvantages of a city and few, if any, of the advantages . . . it will be a suburb of fresh air and sunshine, of health-giving ozone and extensive views . . . No dust and dirt from the Empire City will defile its villas and thicken the atmosphere."

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As reported in the courts, the value of land up on the hill almost doubled because of the tramway.

By the beginning of 1902 most of the compensation cases were settled and the twin cars, built in Dunedin, were installed and ready to run.

Unfortunately, the cable car did not get off to a good start, as The Post reported. On February 7, the company directors had invited several prominent personages to take a ride, including councillors and government ministers.

"A few car-loads went up and down the line and then something went wrong. A splice in the wire cable stripped and became entangled and the service had to be stopped for the afternoon."

The party adjourned to the "power house" - the Botanic Gardens end - where they toasted the king and the success of the company. They had to walk back down into town.

They got the line sorted and opened properly on February 22. A single trip cost threepence and an eight-trip ticket was a shilling.

Despite that rather inglorious beginning, the tramway was a hit. It opened up Kelburne to commuters, zipping people down the hill to work and back up at the end of the day. It also gradually became a symbol of the city and must-do for tourists.

 - The Dominion Post

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