Trolleybuses in Wellington

Trolleybuses in Wellington were part of the Wellington public transport system from 1924 until 1932 and again from 1949 until 2017. It was the last trolleybus system operating commercially in Oceania and the last major system operating in a country where driving is on the left side of the road.

Trolleybuses in Wellington
Wellington trolleybus 385 turning into Cleveland St from Brooklyn Library stop.jpg
GO Wellington DesignLine trolleybus in February 2016
LocaleWellington, New Zealand
First era: 1924 (1924)–1932 (1932)
Status Closed
Routes 1
Operator(s) Wellington City Transport
Electrification *** V DC parallel overhead lines
Second era: 1949 (1949)–2017 (2017)
Status Closed
Routes 9
Electrification 550 V DC parallel overhead lines
Depot(s) Kilbirnie
Stock 60 (October 2017)
Route length 50 km (31 mi) (maximum)
Wellington trolleybus routes
Website GO Wellington


First eraEdit

Wellington's first trolleybus, an AEC 602 in November 1924
Preserved BUT RETB/1 trolleybus 92 in December 2012
A DesignLine trolleybus in the city centre in 2017
Volvo B58 trolleybuses at Wellington station in May 2007
Prototype DesignLine trolleybus 301 in its original Stagecoach livery in June 2005

On 29 September 1924 the first trolleybus route was inaugurated with a single AEC 602 trolleybus running from Thorndon along Hutt Road to Kaiwharawhara (then known as Kaiwarra).[1][2]: 137 

A trolleybus was chosen over an extension to the Wellington tramway system because a large water main on the route precluded tram track construction. Patronage was not very high, and as bus services in the area were introduced and expanded in the years following, patronage declined further and the service was withdrawn on 30 May 1932.[3][4][5]

Second eraEdit

A second and more extensive network was approved in 1945, when it was decided to gradually replace trams with trolleybuses, preferred for being more manoeuvrable and more modern. Trolleybuses were also preferred over diesel or petrol buses due to better traction on steep slopes.[1][3] The first route opened on 20 June 1949 to Roseneath continuing beyond the Oriental Parade tram terminus. It was extended to Hataitai School in October 1949. The next route opened to Aotea Quay to serve a new Social Security Department building. It ceased ten years later when that office moved, and was notable as the only trolleybus terminus in New Zealand where trolleybuses reversed to turn round.[6][7]

Tram conversion started in 1951 with the opening of the route to Wadestown, followed by Karori (1954), Northland (1956), Seatoun and Miramar (1958), Aro Street and Brooklyn, the latter extended beyond the tram terminus to Mornington (1960), Lyall Bay (1963) and Island Bay (1964). The building of Wellington Airport across the Rongotai isthmus required a deviation from the Coutts Street route that the trams had taken. The short Northland route closed in 1972. As late as 1984, a route was converted from diesel to electric operation, with the network reaching its maximum extent at around 50 kilometres.[1][8][9] In 1990 the Wadestown to Roseneath route closed.[6]

Operation of the system was privatised in 1992, when the Wellington City Council sold its transport operations to Stagecoach.[10] The council retained ownership of the system's infrastructure with Stagecoach maintaining it under contract.[11][12] In November 2005, the trolleybus network was included in the sale of Stagecoach's New Zealand operations to Infratil.[13][14]

The network was threatened with closure over the years, mainly on grounds of cost. In 2014, the Greater Wellington Regional Council recommended closure of the entire system.[15] Public consultations on the proposal were followed by a final decision to close the entire system by 2017.[16][17] The published reasons included cost of infrastructure maintenance and upgrading, inflexibility of a wire linked network, plus slower speeds and less reliability than diesel buses.[18][19] The Hataitai loop was replaced by diesel buses in October 2015.[20]

The closure was questioned after the results of the 2017 New Zealand general election. The Labour Party had gained victory by entering into a coalition with the Green Party and New Zealand First, both of the latter who were on record as saying that they wanted to upgrade and maintain trolleybus services in Wellington. However, new transport minister Phil Twyford stated that the government would not step in to save the network. Twyford claimed that the costs of paying out the demolition contracts would be far too high, which came under heavy criticism from Wellington residents and council members in support of the trolleys.[21] On 31 October 2017 the system closed.[22][23] Work to remove the infrastructure began in October 2017 with all works scheduled for completion by late-2018.[24][25][26]


Trolleybuses were an integral part of the Wellington bus service. In the system's last years, they were operated by NZ Bus under the GO Wellington brand. They served the southern, western, and eastern parts of Wellington, using overhead wires owned by Wellington Cable Car Limited, a subsidiary of Wellington City Council[27] and powered at 550 volts DC.[28] The steepest grade on the system was 1 in 10.[4]: 7 


The following routes were operated:[29]

Route From To Notes
1 Wellington railway station Island Bay
2 Wellington railway station Miramar
3 Karori Park Lyall Bay
5 Wellington railway station Hataitai converted to diesel buses October 2015[20]
6 Wellington railway station Lyall Bay
7 Wellington railway station Kingston
9 Wellington railway station Aro Street
10 Wellington railway station Wellington Zoo
11 Wellington railway station Seatoun

Routes operated all day every day, except route 6 (Monday-Friday peak hours only), 9 and 10 (Monday-Friday only, not evenings). There were insufficient trolleybuses to operate all journeys on these routes, and diesel buses operated daily. In the system's last years, some journeys on route 6 ran beyond the wires to Molesworth Street, and were operated by diesel buses, evening services were usually operated by diesel buses, and trolleybuses did not run at the weekend.[30][31]

Route descriptionsEdit

The main city-centre corridor was along the Golden Mile from Wellington railway station (terminus of all routes except the 3) via Lambton Quay and Willis Street (served by all routes) to Courtenay Place (served by routes 1, 2, 3, and 6).

To the west, route 3 traveled to Karori Park via Glenmore Street and the Karori Tunnel, connecting into the Golden Mile south of the railway station.

To the south-west, routes 7 and 9 ran along Willis Street (northbound), Victoria Street (southbound) before splitting – the 7 climbed the hill southwards to Brooklyn, Mornington and Kingston, the 9 ran west up the Aro Valley.

To the south, four routes ran to Newtown (1 and 3 via the Basin Reserve, 10 and 11 via Taranaki Street), with the 1 continuing south to Island Bay, the 10 terminating at Wellington Zoo, and the 3 and 11 turning east to Kilbirnie, where they met routes 2 and 6 via the bus tunnel and Hataitai. From Kilbirnie, routes 2 and 11 ran east to Hobart Street, where the 2 headed north to Miramar, and the 11 continued east to Seatoun; routes 3 and 6 ran south to Lyall Bay.


2009-built DesignLine trolleybus in GO Wellington livery next to Lyall Bay on route 3 in July 2015

The initial service from 1924 until 1932 was operated by an AEC 602.

For the expanded network, 10 Crossley Empires were purchased in 1949. These were followed by BUT RETB/1s bodied by Commonwealth Engineering (38), Metro Cammell Weymann (52) and New Zealand Motor Bodies (19) between 1951 and 1964, the last 38 chassis being manufactured under subcontract by Scammell.[32] Sixty-eight Hawke Coachwork and Coachwork International Volvo B58s were delivered between 1981 and 1986, with 20 unused New Zealand Motor Bodies bodied Volvo B10Ms purchased from the Auckland Regional Authority after it cancelled plans to renew its network.[5][7][8] The B10Ms were later converted to diesel buses.[33]

A prototype DesignLine trolleybus was delivered in March 2003 followed by another two in May 2005.[34] Delivery of the 57-vehicle production series began in December 2007 and finished in September 2009.[35][36][37] Using some components from the Volvos, they had a greater passenger capacity than previous trolleybuses, were low-floor and incorporated other improvements.[38] They were able to operate for short distances off-wire from batteries. The electrical equipment was provided by Eletra Industrial of Brazil.[39]

In April 2016, NZ Bus announced that it would repower several buses, including all of its trolleybuses, with Wrightspeed gas-turbine hybrid powertrains.[40][41] However this was not completed before the trolleybuses were withdrawn.[42]

Fleet numbers Quantity Chassis Axles Body Entered service
1 1 AEC 602 2 DSC & Cousins 1924[43]
1–10 10 Crossley Empire 2 Wellington City Council 1949–50[44]
11–48 38 BUT RETB/1 2 Commonwealth Engineering 1951–56[45]
49–81 33 BUT RETB/1 2 Metro Cammell Weymann 1958–59[46]
82–100 19 BUT RETB/1 2 Metro Cammell Weymann 1964[47]
101-119 19 BUT RETB/1 2 New Zealand Motor Bodies 1964[47]
120-139 20 Volvo B10M 2 New Zealand Motor Bodies 1983[33]
201–233 33 Volvo B58 2 Hawke Coachwork 1981[48]
234–268 35 Volvo B58 2 Coachwork International 1984–86[48]
301–303 3 DesignLine 2 DesignLine 2003–05[49]
331–387 57 DesignLine 3 DesignLine 2007–09[49]

^† manufactured under subcontract by Scammell

Vehicles were initially painted silver, until an all red livery was adopted in 1958.[7] Stagecoach applied its corporate white with orange and blue stripes livery.


Several former Wellington trolleybuses have been preserved:

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c A Brief History The Wellington Trolley Bus Page
  2. ^ Blee, Ian (November 1978). "Under Two Wires in New Zealand, Part 3 – Wellington". Trolleybus Magazine No. 103, pp. 137–140. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.
  3. ^ a b Murray, Alan (2000). World Trolleybus Encyclopaedia. Yateley, Hampshire, UK: Trolleybooks. p. 82. ISBN 0-904235-18-1.
  4. ^ a b Blee, Ian (January 1979). "Under Two Wires in New Zealand, Part 3 – Wellington (continued)". Trolleybus Magazine No. 104, pp. 5–11. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.
  5. ^ a b c "Another Trolleybuses Revived" Bus & Coach Preservation January 2018 pages 38–47
  6. ^ a b Wellington Trolley buses Engineering Heritage New Zealand
  7. ^ a b c McNicol, Steve (1989). New Zealand Trolleybus Selections. Elizabeth, South Australia: Railmac Publications. pp. 3–6. ISBN 0-949817-68-6.
  8. ^ a b "Wellington – Trolleybus Capital of Australasia" Trolley Wire issue 241 May 1990 pages 21–23
  9. ^ Trolleybus Routes of Wellington Trolleybuses of Australasia
  10. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 187 (January–February 1993), p. 25. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.
  11. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 191 (September–October 1993), pp. 131, 133. National Trolleybus Association.
  12. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 227 (September–October 1999), p. 117. National Trolleybus Association.
  13. ^ Disposal of New Zealand Operations Stagecoach 21 November 2005
  14. ^ Stagecoach sells New Zealand unit BBC News 21 November 2005
  15. ^ Radio New Zealand News 15 March 2014
  16. ^ "GWRC Press Release: "Costs and benefits of options for Wellington bus fleet", 7 April 2014". Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  17. ^ "GWRC Press Release: "Hybrid buses recommended as transition towards fully electric bus future for Wellington region", 12 June 2014". Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  18. ^ "GWRC Report (46 Page PDF): "Technical advice concerning Wellington's trolley bus network and potential alternatives", 10 June 2014" (PDF). Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  19. ^ Dominion Post 1 July 2014, p. A4.
  20. ^ a b Beginning of the end for Wellington's trolley buses as axe falls on Hataitai route Dominion Post 5 October 2015
  21. ^ New government inspires 11th-hour trolleybus rescue bid Dominion Post 30 October 2017
  22. ^ End of an era: Wellington's trolleybuses to be replaced by 31 October Rail Express 12 October 2017
  23. ^ "Wellington trolleybuses slip into history" Buses Magazine issue 753 December 2017 page 9
  24. ^ The first step in dismantling Wellington's trolley bus wires begins next week Greater Wellington Regional Council 3 October 2017
  25. ^ Bus wires to be removed from Wellington cbd in new year Dominion Post 28 December 2017
  26. ^ Trolley bus decommissioning Wellington City Council
  27. ^ About Us Wellington Cable Car
  28. ^ Independent Technical Analysis of the Wellington Trolleybus Electrical Infrastructure
  29. ^ Trolleybus City: Wellington Trolley Motion
  30. ^ Evaluating the impact of different bus fleet configurations PricewaterhouseCoopers April 2014
  31. ^ Why trolleybuses are more cost effective than battery buses Trolley Motion 9 May 2016
  32. ^ Lockwood, Stephen (2017). A-Z of British Trolleybuses. Crowood Press. ISBN 9781785002885.
  33. ^ a b Volvo B10M Buses & Coaches Omnibus Society
  34. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 249 (May–June 2003), p. 66.
  35. ^ '$45m deal to rebuild Wellington's trolley buses Dominion Post 11 May 2007
  36. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 288 (November–December 2009), p. 141. National Trolleybus Association (UK).
  37. ^ Last new-generation trolley bus hits the road NZ Bus 2 September 2009
  38. ^ "Wellington to get 61 new trolley buses" (Press release). Greater Wellington Regional Council. 10 May 2007. Archived from the original on 20 May 2007. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  39. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 263 (September–October 2005), p. 120. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.
  40. ^ Wrightspeed and Infratil Announce US $30M Agreement to Bring Clean Transportation to Australasia Wrightspeed 20 April 2016
  41. ^ New Zealand's largest bus company to retrofit fleet with electric engines The Guardian 21 April 2016
  42. ^ The trolley buses are gone, but confusion remains Dominion Post 5 December 2017
  43. ^ 1 – AEC 602 Trackless Tram Omnibus Society
  44. ^ New Zealand Orders – Crossley Trolleybuses Commercial Motor 14 September 1945
  45. ^ BUT for Copenhagen Commercial Motor 12 August 1949
  46. ^ British PSV Production Leads the World Commercial Motor 2 October 1959
  47. ^ a b Jack, Doug (1977). The Leyland Bus. Glossop: The Transport Publishing Company. ISBN 0-903839-13-X.
  48. ^ a b Volvo B58 Buses & Coaches Omnibus Society
  49. ^ a b NZ Bus Australian Bus Fleet Lists
  50. ^ Wellington City Transport Volvo B58 Trolley Bus 268 Omnibus Society
  51. ^ Wellington No 103 Tramway Historical Society
  52. ^ Wellington Volvo No 258 Tramway Historical Society
  53. ^ Wellington 82 The Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft

External linksEdit