Inside the Collection

Sydney’s public transport – Trolley Buses

Photograph of Trolley bus No.1.
Trolley bus No.1. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of the NSW Department of Tramways, 1956. B1320.

With the immanent closure and removal of Sydney’s controversial Monorail on 30 June 2013, I am reminded of the demise of other types of public transport in Sydney like horse buses; steam, cable and electric trams and trolley buses. “Trolley buses?” I hear you say. Yes, Sydney had a trolley bus service from 1934. Like the Monorail it was heralded as the next big thing in public transport threatening to oust Sydney’s much-loved trams.

Photograph of Trolley bus No.1. on Sydney wharf
Trolley bus No. 1 on the wharf in Sydney after its arrival on the Jervis Bay.

What’s a trolley bus? Well, basically it’s a cross between a bus and a tram. Trolley buses looked like ordinary motor buses on rubber-tyred wheels except that, like trams, they operated on electricity and were connected to overhead wires by a pair of trolley poles. Unlike trams they were quiet, not confined to tram tracks, could move from lane to lane in traffic and pick up passengers from the curb-side rather than the middle of the road.

Sydney’s first trolley bus, No. 1, was imported from England and made by AEC. It arrived by ship in October 1933 and with a second trolley bus, was tested on the driver training circle inside the former Kensington Racecourse, now the site of the University of New South Wales.


Photograph of interior view of the trolley bus.
Interior view of the trolley bus.

These single-deck trolley buses were introduced for a 12-month trial period on the Wylde Street service from Potts Point to Elizabeth Street and began operation on the 22 January 1934. They were ceremoniously driven out of their Rushcutters Bay depot after the then Minister for Transport, Colonel Bruxner, turned on the power. (The trolley bus depot was in the former cable tram winding engine house). Somewhat embarrassingly, one of the trolley buses de-wired during the day and passengers were transferred to trams! This was not a good start as the Government was looking into placing some tram services with trolley buses. Looking at photos of them in the city in the 1930s they appear incredibly modern compared to the old-fashioned looking cars and trucks with which they shared the road.


Photograph of trolley bus on route in Sydney
Trolley bus on route in Sydney

Unfortunately, the trolley buses continued to suffer from de-wiring problems over the hilly terrain of their route and having to pass tramway crossings. During road repairs in 1948 they were temporarily replaced by diesel buses but were never reinstated. Nevertheless, in 1937 another trolley bus service, from Rockdale station to Kogarah, Sans Souci and Sandringham, replaced the last government-operated steam trams. The flat locality of these suburbs must have aided the trolley buses’ reliability. The twenty-one trolley buses for this service, which ceased in 1959, were the largest double-deck vehicles in Australia and seated sixty-three passengers with front and rear doors and staircases.


Photograph of single and double-deck trolley buses.
Single and double-deck trolley buses.

Trolley buses were always considered to be trams. They were worked by tram crews, issued tram tickets and never carried motor vehicle registration. They acquired the nickname ‘whispering death’ because, being electrically driven on pneumatic tyres, they crept up on unwary pedestrians.


The Museum has Trolley bus No. 1 and it’s on display at the Powerhouse Discovery Centre. I wonder in 2060 if my successors will be writing with nostalgia and affection for the Monorail?


Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator, Transport

10 responses to “Sydney’s public transport – Trolley Buses


  • I still live in the same address in Regent St Kogarah I love the trolley buses Quiet and a story that I can tell the grand children why we still have the 2 telegraph poles on each side of the street and where the Buses turned around at Kogarah station and when the races were held at Morefield racecourse the two buses that were held at the end of the street and when as school kids going to Sans Souci baths on our special on the Friday afternoon during the summer they were fun times

  • I can remember catching the diesel bus from Bexley North to Rockdale and then the beautiful silent and smooth trolley bus to Sans Souci baths for swimming lessons. Later in life, as an apprentice electrical fitter, I spent some time working on the trolley buses.

  • I live in Queensland and in Brisbane and I went to School and back from School in a tram which was and still is in Windsor and the School was 150 years old in 2015 but now it is 154 years old.
    And I rode in the trolley buses mainly in the city because they pulled over to get off and on and there was more people in the city.
    But I still say Trolley buses and trams ARE vehicles.

  • Wiki says trolley buses stopped in 1959 but I remember them in Sydney in 1966, I come from Melbourne and we were returning home from Queensland and stopped over in Sydney. I remember riding the ferries an saw the incomplete Opera House and I noticed the trolley buses as I sawthem like trams that run on tyres. And my father told me they can pull over to the kerb but couldn’t overtake each other.

  • Hi

    I am a trolleybus enthusiast living in the UK. I used to travel to school each day on the trolley. Wonderful – smooth and quiet. I am writing a book on trolleybuses built in the UK by AEC, and am looking for photos of those operated in Sydney. Can anyone help? I will credit the photos to you!

  • Many memories for me here, I was a paper boy and worked selling my papers through bottom and top decks of Trolly buses as they stopped for passengers. I was only about 8 maybe 9 and I had a makeshift stand at the corner of Rocky Roint rd and Ramsgate rd Ramsgate. I started early around 5.30am till 8.00am then had to run to school at Sans Souci. I sold many papers and had many friends i.e. bus drivers and customers in my time there in the early 50’s. My employer was Martins Newsagency Ramsgate

  • Thanks for all the info on the trolleybuses.
    Worked at Park Royal Vehicles 1959 – 1974. So never saw them being built.
    Great to see our old veterans still being looked after. At my time the Routemasters were being manufactured at PRV.

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