Crew uncovers old tracks

2015-11-17 06:00
Old tram tracks were recently exposed during roadworks on Long Street. PHOTO: Thys Hattingh

Old tram tracks were recently exposed during roadworks on Long Street. PHOTO: Thys Hattingh

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Roadworks on Long Street have led to the discovery of a piece of history.

Tram tracks were uncovered after a water main burst on the corner of Long and Dorp streets.

Johan van der Merwe, mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, says: “These were confirmed to be old tram tracks, but no other material of an archaeological nature was evident in the roadworks. Once work on the water main was complete, the tracks were covered with new asphalt. The tram tracks have not been damaged and remain protected in situ under the new asphalt.”

The unexpected find is not unusual for the city centre, says Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport.

“It is important to note that there are tram lines under many of our roads in the Cape Town central business district. All of these tracks were covered with asphalt when the trams stopped operating some decades ago,” he says.

In September 1862, the Cape Town and Green Point Tramway Company was formed, and began operations on 1 April 1863, with a horse-drawn service running on rails from the foot of Adderley Street and out along Somerset Road to Green Point. Both single- and double-decker horse-drawn trams were used.

In 1879, a second tramways company, the City Tramways Company Limited, started to operate a similar horse-drawn service, initially out to Green Point and Sea Point, and later to the Gardens and the southern suburbs.

Technological innovations saw horse-drawn trams replaced with electric trams in 1894 and later the introduction of fuel-powered motorbuses in 1911 and trackless electric trams in 1934.

As the lines run under many of the city’s busiest streets, preserving the tracks becomes “nearly impossible”, Herron says.

“It would be impractical to preserve these tracks as it would mean we could not allow traffic near them,” he says.

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