Monday, June 06, 2011

Chans keep track of trams' return

They're all tram enthusiasts, Motat volunteers and they're related.

The Chan family can't wait to see trams return to the city. In fact if they had their way, the city's tramway would never have been discontinued.

Henderson resident Albert Chan is one of Motat's longest-serving tram drivers.

The 67-year-old gained his official tram licence in 1979 and has been volunteering ever since.

"I do it because I love trams, always have and always will. Motat is the only place in Auckland I can still drive them," he says.

Mr Chan's passion is one shared by his twin sons and nephew, who are all volunteers in Motat's tram division.

"When the boys were small and I was working they would ride with me for the day," Mr Chan says. "Now that they're old enough they have all joined up.

"My son Leyton drives the trams and his brother Vincent does the engineering side. Kinan is my nephew, I got him involved too. He's 18, the youngest driver we've got," he says.

Vincent, 28, works mainly on restoring the trams. A tram can take between up to five years to restore, depending on its condition, he says.

"It's not an easy job but I love it.

"A lot of the skills you need are no longer practised so we rely on our older members. You really have to spend time looking at how things were done 100 years ago," he says.

The heritage tramway project is being built along Auckland's waterfront.

The tramway route will link Wynyard Quarter to Britomart. The 1.5km loop will run clockwise from Jellicoe St to Daldy St.

"It's like reinventing the wheel," Vincent says.

Auckland had a functional tram system before it was phased out in 1956.

He says it's a shame the city did away with trams.

"Nowadays trying to get around Auckland is hopeless. Everyone is so car-oriented."

The new tramway will facilitate the movement of people around the Quarter.

Auckland Waterfront Development Agency marketing and communications manager John Gundesen says the tramway will open mid-August in time for the 2011 World Rugby Cup.

"We are well down the path and construction is going to schedule," he says. "In the early stages the tramway will be primarily a scenic route for tourists.

"It will be a bit like the Christchurch loop, locals may not ride it every day but it's a way to see the city and its surrounds," Mr Gundesen says.

"Down the track the plan is for us to put contemporary light rail on to the same tracks and connect it across to Te Wero Island in the Viaduct and Britomart."

Leyton, Vincent's twin brother, says Auckland lacks a decent public transport system and he hopes this historic tramway is the start of something bigger.

"When you travel overseas you see how good their transport systems are and back in Auckland there's really no comparison," he says.

"It's exciting too. And a great opportunity to bring trams into New Zealand that wouldn't otherwise be restored."

Just like his two sons, Mr Chan is eager to see the project take shape.

"I was at the site on New Year's Day when they started construction to take pictures. I pop by almost every day after work," he says.
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He just remembers the trams when they operated on Auckland streets.

"I used to live up on Dominion Rd in Mt Eden. My parents had a fruit shop and the tram stop was right outside the front door," he says.

Vincent says keeping people's memories of the Auckland trams alive is a major part of his role.

"The job is more than just physical labour.

"You get a lot of people coming on the trams saying: `Oh, I remember we had these 50-odd years ago. Why don't we have them now'?"

– Ashleigh McEnaney is an AUT journalism student

- Auckland City Harbour News
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2011

TRAM FAMILY: Vincent Chan, his father Albert and brother Leyton are all Motat volunteers. They are standing in front of Tram 47 at Motat.

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