This article is a general one on trams in London. For a specific article on the organisation responsible for running the current generation of trams in London, see London Trams. For a complete list of historical tram operators, see list of tram operators

There have been two separate generations of trams in London, from 1860 to 1952 and from 2000. Between 1952 and 2000 no trams ran in London.

History[edit | edit source]

Horse trams[edit | edit source]

File:London Tramways Horse tram.jpg

A London Tramways horse tram, c 1890

The first generation of trams in London started in 1860 when a horse tramway began operating along Victoria Street in Westminster[1]. This first line was operated by a somewhat eccentric American, George Francis Train. Initially there was strong opposition, as, although it was popular with its passengers, the first designs had rails that stood proud of the road surface and created an obstruction for other traffic. This came to a head in 1861 when Train was arrested for "breaking and injuring" the Uxbridge Road, and his plans were put on hold[2]. Eventually Parliament passed legislation permitting tram services, on the condition that the rails were recessed into the carriageway, and that the tramways were shared with other road users. Costs of maintenance of the tramway and its immediately neighbouring road carriageway would be borne by the tram companies, thus benefiting the ratepayers, who had been bearing the full cost of highway repairs since the abolition of turnpikes. Fares were set at 1d per mile, with half-price early and late workmen's services[3]. After a demonstration line was built at the Crystal Palace, the first lines authorised by the Act of Parliament in 1870 ran from:

The new tram companies all adopted the same standard gauge, with the intention of being able to link up services at later dates. Horse tram lines soon opened all over London, typically using two horses to pull a 60-person car. They proved popular as they were cheaper, smoother, roomier, and safer than the competing Omnibus or Hackney carriages. They were replaced by electric vehicles from 1901 until the last were withdrawn during World War I.

Powered trams[edit | edit source]

There were several early attempts to run motor-powered trams on the London tramlines: John Grantham first trialled an experimental 23' steam tramcar in London in 1873, but withdrew it after it performed poorly[4]. From 1885 the North London Tramways Company operated 25 Merryweather and Dick, Kerr steam engines hauling long-wheelbase Falcon trailers, until its liquidation in 1891[5]. Although several towns and cities adopted steam trams, the problems associated with track weight, acceleration, noise and power held back their general acceptance in London.

In 1891 a cable tram was introduced for Highgate Hill, the first cable tramway in Europe[5], which was followed by a second cable line to draw trams up Brixton Hill to Streatham[6]. Both these systems were replaced within 15 years by electric trams.

The electric tram took some decades to establish itself in London. Soon after the storage battery was invented, an electric tram was tested on the West Metropolitan Tramways line between Acton and Kew in 1883[4], but it was not until 1901 that Croydon Corporation introduced the first fully operational electric tram services in the Greater London area, using power delivered from overhead wires. Meanwhile Imperial Tramways, under the directorship of James Clifton Robinson, had acquired the worn-out tram network in West London, which it renovated and extended from Shepherds Bush to Acton, Ealing, Chiswick and Uxbridge, as the London United Tramways Company, using overhead electrification throughout[5] and its own network of ornate power stations, starting with Chiswick[7].

First electric trams[edit | edit source]

File:First Tram on Kingston Bridge.jpg

The first electric tram on Kingston Bridge, 1906

After the slow start, electric trams had rapidly became very popular; by 1903 years there were 300 electric tramcars in London, which carried 800,000 passengers over Whitsun weekend in 1903. The London County Council Tramways first electric line opened in May 1903 between Westminster Bridge and Tooting, and the LCC sold 3.3 million tickets in its third year of business, or five times the traffic carried by its horse trams. The LCC saw the electric trams as a way of driving social change, as its cheap, fast service could encourage workers to move out of the crowed inner city and live healthier lives in the suburbs[5]. Although the City of London and the West End of London never gave permission for tram lines to be built, soon other London boroughs introduced their own electric services, including West Ham, Leyton, Dartford and Bexley.

By 1914 the London tram operators formed the largest tram network in Europe[5], but the onset of the Great War saw a halt in the expansion of the trams, and thousands of staff left to join the armed forces to be replaced by "substitute" women conductors and drivers.

Several different companies and municipalities operated London's electric tramways. The largest was the LCC, with lines equipped with an unusual form of electricity supply via an underground conduit located between the running rails. Other operators mainly used the more conventional overhead electric wires. Many of London's trams had to be equipped with both systems of electricity supply, with routes being equipped with change points.

Trams on Westminster Bridge Road, 1912. The single-deck tram was used in the Kingsway subway

During their heyday, tram services covered much of inner London and reached out to the suburbs, assisted by facilities like the Kingsway tramway subway, which enabled the longest tram route entirely within the County of London to operate: a weekend service between Archway, then part of Highgate, and Downham via Brockley, 16 miles.

Route coverage might have been wider still, but the terms of the 1870 Act meant that the passage of new tramways had to be negotiated individually with local authorities, who would sometimes impose prohibitively expensive improvement works as a condition of approval[8].

After the Great War money for investment and maintenance became harder to find, as passengers migrated to the new motor bus services. In the 1930s The London United and Metropolitan Electric companies purchased a large fleet of modern double-deck Feltham trams, built by the Union Construction Company at Feltham. LUT accompanied this change by introducing electric trolleybuses using twin overhead wires as a cheaper alternative for 17 miles of its routes in 1931.

A Royal Commission on Transport, held between 1928 and 1931, ensured that the tram companies retained complete responsibility for the maintenance of its rails and highway, which was shared with other road users who contributed its wear. But this was accompanied by Parliamentary bills in 1930 and 1933 that set up the London Passenger Transport Board to operate the LCC's existing bus and underground train service, and to purchase and manage all of London's tramways. Under the LPTB there was no new investment in tram services, and the maintenance of services became a hot political issue in elections in South London, an area poorly served by Underground trains[9]. The merged tram services were were held back from introducing new, quieter and more comfortable track and vehicles, in favour of trolleybus services and tubes provided under the New Works Programme. Although the trams returned gross annual revenues of £850,000, the net surplus of £128,000 after costs was taken by the LCC, partly to repay the debt of £18m resulting from the merger[10].

Abandonment[edit | edit source]

At this time trams were starting to be considered out-dated and inflexible, and the phasing out and replacement by diesel buses or trolleybuses started in earnest around 1935, when a large proportion of the trams and of the tracks and ancillary equipment were nearing the end of their useful life. Replacement continued until hostilities stopped the conversion programme in June 1940, leaving only the South London trams and the routes that went through the Kingsway subway into North London. After WWII shortages of steel and electrical machinery were cited as reasons for not investing in maintenance, while the LCC reported that the service ran at a loss. A.B.B. Valentine, one of the five full-time members of the London Transport Executive, saw trams as a major cause of road congestion, which would be relieved by the introduction of buses, with the aesthetic benefit of doing away with overhead wires and their noisy operation[11]. A report in The Economist in 1952 suggested a more comprehensive list of reasons for their demise, including :

  • the 1870 Tramways Act, which placed a great financial burden on the operator for road maintenance even though it was not responsible for all the wear[12]
  • London had too narrow streets, unlike continental cities.
  • London's housing developments were too far away from tram routes
  • prejudice against trams by the authorities

The capital cost of replacing and updating the worn out infrastructure and trams was also seen as prohibitive when compared with the £9 m capital cost of buying buses with a slightly smaller carry capacity[11].

"Operation Tramaway", the replacement of the tram service by diesel bus, was announced in July 1950 by Lord Latham of the London Transport Executive. Retirement started in October 1950 and London's last trams ran in the early hours of 6 July 1952 to a rousing reception at New Cross Depot[13].

No general traffic improvement in traffic flow was seen after the trams were withdrawn[11].

Following the closure of London’s tram system, the Feltham trams were mostly sold to Leeds where they continued in service until the abandonment of that city’s trams in 1959. Some London tramcars have been preserved on static display at London's Transport Museum (in Covent Garden) and in working order at the National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire.

Current trams[edit | edit source]

Main article: Tramlink

Most new rail systems in London have since been built to use light rail, as the steeper gradients, cheaper engines, and more flexible land use inherent in modern designs have led to more affordable and practical systems.

The first of these is a light rail system was built to serve the redeveloped Docklands area of East London. The Docklands Light Railway opened in 1987 at a cost £77 million, running on dedicated new or disused railway viaducts and redundant surface-level railway right of ways. It not a true tram system, being a hybrid system somewhere between modern trams and conventional rail, but with fully automated driverless engines. It has since been extended to cover 31 km of lines north and south of the River Thames[14].

File:Tramlink East Croydon.jpg

Tramlink at East Croydon, 2004

The next generation of trams started with the opening of Croydon Tramlink in 2000. Croydon previously had many tramlines, although the AddiscombeEast Croydon Station route through George Street to Cherry Orchard Road closed in 1927. The Purley - Embankment, and Croydon Greyhound - Thornton Heath routes closed between 1951 and 1952[15].

The current tramway was initiated in 1990 when Croydon Council worked with what was then London Regional Transport (LRT) to propose Tramlink to Parliament, resulting in the Croydon Tramlink Act 1994 giving LRT the legal power to build and run Tramlink. The new Act still incorporated major parts of the 1870 Tramways Act[16] which had held back previous private tram companies. However, as most of the routes affected were managed by the same authority, the obligation to maintain the road surface was not a new cost.

Tramlink operates modern articulated tramcars based on a Bombadier low-floor design, originally developed for Cologne, Germany, with the tram units numbered from 2530. This number was the next in sequence from the last London tram, number 2529, withdrawn in 1952[15] Since it opened on 11 May 2000 the 38 km of track have been operated by FirstGroup on behalf of Transport for London on three routes across South London[17]. It features accessible low platforms that match the 350 mm high car floor, or tram stops at the same height as the pavement. Much of the track is dedicated tramway, with some sections shared with other road vehicles, including some of the same roads served by the previous generation of tram. The off-street track includes new rights-of-way, adapted former railway lines, and one section running alongside a Network Rail line. Part of the formation between Mitcham and Hackbridge was originally used by the Surrey Iron Railway, the world's first public railway, authorised by Act of Parliament in 1803Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many.

Future[edit | edit source]

New tram systems and extensions to existing tram lines have been discussed or planned:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Barrett, B., The Inner Suburbs. The Evolution of an Industrial Area (Melbourne, 1971), p. 150
  2. Police News, The Times, 27 March 1861
  3. Street Tramways, The Times, 26 May 1869
  4. 4.0 4.1 Harter, Jim (2005). World Railways of the Nineteenth Century: A Pictorial History in Victorian Engravings. JHU Press. ISBN 0801880890. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Taylor & Green (2001). The Moving Metropolis: The History of London's Transport Since 1800. Laurence King Publishing. ISBN 1856693260. 
  6. London Brixton Hill.
  7. 20th Century London. Cast iron staircase at Chiswick sub-station (1961).
  8. Template:Cite news
  9. Template:Cite news
  10. Template:Cite news
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Watkins, Ann E.. The Campaign To Save the London Trams 1946-1952 (MS Word).
  12. Tramways Act 1870. UK Statute Law Database (1870).
  13. London's Last Tram (Youtube).
  14. Dockland Facts. Docklands Light Railway (2005).
  15. 15.0 15.1 Croydon Tramlink (Unofficial Site).
  16. Croydon Tramlink Act (1994).
  17. Croydon Tramlink. First.
  18. Croydon Tramlink extension. TfL.
  19. Cross River Tram. TfL.
  20. West London Tram. TfL.
  21. Template:Cite news
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.