The original and most numerous W2 variant was supplemented in the late 1930s by 120 W5 (or "Clyde") class trams with wider cabins, and more powerful motors, however these were notorious for being difficult to drive smoothly. The W6 followed on, and became the most popular W class tram with crews and passengers alike as they were fast, smooth and comfortable, compared with earlier W variants. Construction came to a halt for some years, with the final 40 W Class trams emerging from the Preston Workshops in 1956, when the need to provide something more capable of dealing with Olympic Games crowds than Bourke Street's buses prompted the last expansion of the network.
The W7 Class with its pneumatic sliding doors (later retrofitted to most W5 and W6 trams too) and softer suspension proved popular with passengers. It was not until the 1990s that the W Class was finally considered 'surplus' to rolling stock requirements.
In 1992 an official mass withdrawal of the W class was announced by the then transport minister Alan Brown, this was generally due to the fact that over 200 W class remained in service while the newer Z class trams were in storage in varying locations, displaced by the newer A and B class vehicles. The public outrage over the dissappearing icons brought about a reconsideration of the withdrawal policy, so it was decided 53 W's would be retained for tourist purposes. The popular zero-fare city circle tourist route commenced in 1994 using 12 of the 53 trams retained.
The remaining 150 or so withdrawn W's are in storage at Newport Workshops, their fate is undecided, although an embargo on the sale of these trams to overseas interest was placed on them. The government has made the odd donation to tram museums abroad, the most recent tram was gifted to Princess Mary, and Prince Frederick in 2006.
The zero-fare City Circle route also operates using the W class to the delight of many tourists. The oldest W class trams remaining in service, dating from 1936, run this route. Others have been converted for use on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant service which cruises the suburbs in the evening.
The condition of the W class fleet was been criticised by the Rail Tram and Bus Union, who in September 2008 demanded remedial works be carried out, or the fleet taken out of service due to poor maintenance standards. A Yarra Trams spokesman said that the fleet met maintenance standards, but required more cosmetic work than other trams due to the wooden structure.
Yarra Trams maintenance of these icons has been under public scrutiny for some time. Yarra Trams have a budget that applies to all trams.
A number of W-class trams have been sent overseas, including five that went to Seattle between 1978 and 1993, where they operated as Seattle's own heritage streetcar line, George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line, between 1982 and 2005. Since 1990, public outrage over the sale of these popular trams to overseas interest has forced an embargo to be placed on the sale of these trams to any overseas interest.
In 2005 a tram was restored at a cost of $25,000 and given as a wedding present from the Victorian Government to Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. Shipping line Maersk transported the tram to Denmark free of charge, waiving the estimated bill of $40,000.
The 406-strong class was the backbone of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB)'s vast fleet during their heyday from the 1940s to 1960s. Most class members had been converted from the earlier W & W1 classes.The trams featured two enclosed saloon areas at either end of the tram and an open "drop-centre" section in the middle. A trademark feature of these vehicles until the 1970s was their uncomfortable wooden bench-style seats,a feature they shared with most other Melbourne trams of that period.
Mechanically, they had four under-floor motors powering two sets of the MMTB's "Number one" bogies. The driver's controls were made by Westinghouse, among others.
Towards the end of their useful lives, many class members were converted to service (non-Passenger) stock such as carborundum rail scrubbers, Permanent-way vehicles, rail grinders & breakdown units. A large number of units were also sold to museums and public transport operators in Australia and around the world with a large number still running today.
From 1978 until 1982 many W2s were painted by well-known Australian Artists as part of the "Transporting Art" program.
The last W2 to run in regular service in Melbourne ran in mid-1987 on the number 86 City to Bundoora route although a small number were used well into the early 1990s during extended tram shortages.
SW5 class trams have sliding doors, improved drop centre seating and round cornered windscreens to differentiate themselves from unconverted W5 class trams. Trams 840 - 849 were built as SW5 class trams initially, while other trams were converted from W5 class trams in the 1980s, with two conversions in 1956.
Fleet numbers SW5 class trams have unusual fleet numbers, with most W5 class trams retaining their original fleet numbers as a different class.
After 1983-86 The SW5 class was essentially the same in appearance to the later classes owing to the addition of sliding doors to replace weather blinds. The main differences retained were the square saloon windows, and the internal wooden bulk heads.
During the mass withdrawal of the W classes in 1994-96, the majority of this class was retired in preferance to the higher class W's, this was due to the discovery of asbestos in the controllers.
W6 class trams initially begun as a sub group of the SW6-class trams, but later became their own class. They are similar to the W7-class trams. Two of the trams are in the hands of preservation groups, one of which is used as a café tram in Bendigo.
Three SW6-class trams also operate as restaurant trams, operating in the evenings, providing first class meals and service with all food cooked and prepared on the trams.
The Cab controls are the same as of other W class trams.