The legacy of Tram Boy: The 15-year-old who stole a tram for a joyride around Melbourne

The legacy of Tram Boy: The 15-year-old who stole a tram for a joyride around Melbourne

Melbourne art tram
Image: Public Record Office Victoria
Words By Fergus Neal

The captivating story of Tram Boy.

On April 18, 2005, the ABC reported: “A 15-year-old boy who allegedly stole two trams over the weekend, drove them a total of more than 25 kilometres and picked up passengers along the way is a good lad whose obsession got the better of him, according to police.”

Superheroes often feel like the relic of a previous generation. These heroes of comic books and movies give their city hope in hours of darkness. Batman saves Gotham, Superman rescues Metropolis, and Spiderman seems to always spin New York City out of trouble. But Melbourne has its own superhero whose story is long overdue to resurface.

His name is Tram Boy.

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You might have heard about Tram Boy in hushed tones among dedicated public transport fans or whispered about by tram drivers who are forbidden to mention his name in the depot. The story is less about a boy and more about the special way a dream can will its way to fruition.

The legend was born on a cold autumn night in April 2005. When Tram Boy “wearing a jacket similar to the Yarra Trams uniform” made his way into the South Melbourne depot undetected before obtaining keys for a C-class tram only to take off into this city’s folklore.

Tram Boy drove around the network for 40 minutes “manually changing tracks and crossing busy intersections”. He allegedly “stopped to pick up passengers and reversed once when he overshot a stop”. One cannot imagine the confusion of passengers at the time – validating your Metcard alongside a teenage tram driver who nonetheless takes you where you need to go both punctually and professionally. No passengers called the police.

The teenager was arrested in spectacular fashion in Kew, 15 kilometres from where the tram was stolen when police were forced to shut the electricity off which spelled the demise of this city’s beacon of hope. Yes, you read that correctly. The only way our hero was halted occurred by cutting off the tram’s blood source – the equivalent of waiting for a stolen car to run out of fuel.

A motorist told of the “pretty brutal” arrest of Tram Boy at gunpoint. David Iliff said to The Age at the time that about eight police cars surrounded the tram, which was at the intersection of Glenferrie Road and Wellington Street, carrying ten passengers headed home for Sunday night roast.

Tram Boy’s charm was not lost on his passengers who Mr Iliff said, “protested when the boy was pushed against a seat and handcuffed”.

The event sparked a national press conference. The deputy chief executive of Yarra Trams at the time, Dennis Cliche, spoke boldly of Tram Boy’s efforts. Speaking in no uncertain terms and via a myriad of catch phrases, he said the boy must have studied tram drivers to operate the 50-tonne vehicle, which usually takes five weeks of training.

This of course conjures up images of a young Tram Boy with pencil and pad in hand, standing patiently alongside an unbeknownst tram driver who taught a quick-learning teenager how to navigate the Melbourne tram network.

“There are safety systems built in that he would have had to study and know-how to drive this tram without engaging the safety systems, which are designed to shut the tram down,” said Mr. Cliche.

“So … this is someone who’s spent a lot of time and a lot of effort to go about this.”

Detective Senior Constable Barry Hills said the boy admitted his obsession with trams during a police interview.

“He’s a nice lad, he’s a good lad. I think his obsession just got the better of him,” said Senior Constable Hills.

We’ve all been there. Who among us has not let obsession get the better of us? Perhaps your’s manifests in an entire room full of house plants, or a designated area for home-crafted kombucha – those of us with our own vices can understand Tram Boy’s pursuit.

Although stressed at the potential seriousness of the theft, Senior Constable Hills said the boy should not abandon his dream of being a tram driver.

“He loves them and speaking to him, he enjoys watching trams but I believe that if he stays on the straight and narrow then it’s certainly not going to affect his future,” said Constable Hills barely stifling a smile.

In a time of such darkness for our beloved city, we look to heroes like Tram Boy for hope. Some solace may be found in the fact that a 30-year-old Tram Boy is probably out there now, navigating the tracks. Sometimes by himself, and sometimes carrying essential workers like nurses and teachers to their place of work.

The wry smile of a tram driver who knows that better times are always around the next bend and that dreams are the things that ought to be held on to no matter the circumstances.

On behalf of Melbourne. God bless you, Tram Boy.

Want to know more about Melbourne’s history? Check out our list of the most gripping Melbourne true crime tales