Tramway History

The following is a chronological history of the development, expansion, demise, and eventual rebirth of the tramway in the British Isles (Britain and Ireland).

25th March 1807
Inauguration of the world’s first, fare-paying, rail-borne, passenger-carrying service (The Oystermouth Railway, Swansea, Wales). This horse-drawn line was an unfenced roadside railway as opposed to a true tramway.

14th November 1832
Inauguration of the world’s first true street tramway (The New York and Haarlem Railroad Company). This horse-drawn line initially ran 1.5 miles along the Bowery from Prince Street to 14th Street.

1835
Probably the first ever use of steam haulage on a street tramway (The New York and Haarlem Railroad Company).

1839
Opening of what was possibly continental Europe's first horse-drawn tramway (Compagnie du Chemin de Fer de Montbrison à Montrond), Note that this was not a true street tramway, but was more an interruban railway with some street running.

21st November 1853
Inauguration of the first tramway service in the world to use street-level 'girder' rails rather than protruding rails (Place de la Concorde to Pont de Sèvres, Paris). Note that this line was only run on an experimental basis as a demonstration line in connection with the World Fair two years later (1855).

30th August 1860
Opening, by the American entrepeneur George F Train, of the first true street tramway in Europe (Birkenhead Street Railway Company Limited). This horse-drawn line survived in more or less continuous operation to 1901, when it was taken over by the corporation for electrification.

23rd March 1861
Opening, by George F Train, of London’s first street tramway (Marble Arch Street Rail Company Limited). This horse-drawn line, as well as two others opened by Train, lasted only a matter of months before being closed in the face of fierce civic opposition. The use of a ’step rail’ - effectively creating a channel below the street surface - was one factor amongst many in their quick demise.

1st November 1869
Opening of Liverpool Tramways, the first tramway service in the British Isles authorised by an act of parliament (the Liverpool Tramways Act of 1868).

9th August 1870
The ’Tramways Act’ becomes law. This law was expressly designed to regulate tramway development, but very much from the perspective of the local authorities. As such, it gave them a complete veto over any tramway scheme, as well as the right to compulsory purchase any concern - effectively at scrap prices - after 21 years had elapsed. The former was frequently used to stifle development, whilst the later was a positive disincentive for companies to maintain the track and tramway infrastructure as the years wore on. Prospective tramway companies also had to contend with onerous obligations in respect of maintaining the right of way (usually the local authority’s own roads), as well as having to pay the full rateable value on all track, effectively the entire road if the line was double track. The act also prohibited local authorities from operating tramways, a restriction that was subsequently removed.

6th November 1871
Opening of the first street tramway (horse-drawn) in Scotland (Edinburgh Street Tramways).

1st February 1872
Opening of the first street tramway (horse-drawn) in Ireland (Dublin Tramways Company).

12th July 1872
Opening of the first true street tramway (horse-drawn) in Wales (Cardiff Tramways).

1st September 1873
Opening of the first cable-hauled tramway in the world (Clay Street Hill Railroad, San Francisco).

8th January 1876
First successful use of steam traction to carry fare-paying passengers in the British Isles (Handsworth to West Bromwich route of the Birmingham and District Tramways Co Ltd). Note that this was a demonstration of the concept as opposed to a regular service.

1st August 1876
Introduction of the first regular steam tramway service in the British Isles (The Wantage Tramway). Note that the ‘Wantage’ was actually a roadside tramway-cum-railway, not a true street tramway.

1877
Introduction of the first regular steam-hauled street tramway service in the British Isles (Vale of Clyde Tramways).

17th August 1877
Introduction of the first regular steam-hauled tramway service in Wales (Swansea and Mumbles Railway). Note that the Swansea and Mumbles was more of a roadside railway than a tramway, though passenger stock was very much in the tramway mould.

11th August 1879
The ’Use of Mechanical Power on Tramways Act 1879’ becomes law. This legislation opened the way for the widespread use of steam traction on street tramways within the British Isles, whereas previously its use had been confined - by the ‘Locomotives on Highways Act 1865’ (and it’s various amendments) - to roadside tramways like the Wantage.

17th June 1880
Introduction of the first regular steam-hauled street tramway service in England (Leeds Tramways).

3rd September 1880
First use of electricity to haul fare-paying passengers (Sestroretsk Railway, St Petersburg). Note that this was an experimental and short-lived service on a railway.

16th April 1881
Opening of the first British street tramway (Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways) authorised to use steam traction only.

16th May 1881
Inauguration of the first electrically powered tramway service in the world (Gross-Lichterfelde Tramway, Berlin). This line was built by Werner von Siemens, using tramcars supplied with direct current via the rails.

1st June 1881
Introduction of the first regular steam-hauled tramway service in Ireland (Dublin and Lucan Steam Tramway).

1882
Introduction of the first regular steam-hauled street tramway service in Wales (Swansea Tramways Company). This system was in fact the only Welsh street tramway to make use of steam trams; although two other tramways (the Swansea and Mumbles Railway and the Glyn Valley Tramway) both made extensive use of steam traction, they were actually roadside tramways as opposed to true street tramways.

11th January 1883
Opening of the first cable-hauled tramway in Europe (Highgate Hill Tramways, London).

11th January 1883
Opening of the first municipally operated tramway in the British Isles (Huddersfield Corporation Tramways).

3rd August 1883
First use - in the British Isles - of electric traction to carry fare-paying passengers (Volk’s Railway). The passenger carrying cars ran on reserved railway tracks, with power supplied via one of the rails, though this was quickly superseded by installation of a third-rail.

18th September 1883
Inauguration of the first electrically powered tramway service in the British Isles (Giants Causeway, Portrush and Bush Valley Tramway). The line was effectively a railway for most of its length, but did involve 0.75 miles of street running, with power supplied by an elevated third rail that ran alongside the tracks.

29th September 1885
Opening of the first electrically powered street tramway in Britain (Blackpool Corporation Tramways). Power was supplied via a conduit positioned centrally between the rails.

28th January 1888
Opening of the first cable-hauled tramway in Scotland (Edinburgh Northern Tramways). This was actual the first line of a complete cable tramway system, the only one in the British Isles.

29th October 1891
Opening of the first ‘overhead wire’ electrically powered street tramway in Europe (Leeds City Tramways).

16th May 1896
Inauguration of the first electric street tramway service in the British Isles using a 3-phase generation/direct current distribution system (Dublin Southern District Tramways).

11th July 1896
Opening of the first gas-powered tramway in the British Isles (Blackpool, St Anne’s and Lytham Tramways Company). The only other systems to use gas-powered trams were Trafford Park Tramways and Neath Corporation Tramways, the latter using secondhand trams displaced from Lytham.

14th August 1896
The ’Light Railways Act 1896’ becomes law. This law was designed to enable the construction of low-cost railways, particularly in rural areas, but was occasionally used to construct or extend both company and municipally owned tramways. Unlike the Tramway Act of 1870, it did not require a parliamentary act specific to each line, nor did local authorities have an absolute veto.

6th September 1897
Opening of the first true electric street tramway in the south of England, Dover Corporation Tramways.

27th August 1898
Opening of the first cable-hauled tramway in Wales (Swansea Constitution Hill Incline Tramway). The only other cable-hauled tramway in Wales was the Great Orme Tramway, which is now well into its second century of operation.

13th October 1898
Inauguration of the first electric street tramway service in Scotland (Glasgow Corporation Tramways).

30th June 1900
Inauguration of the first electric street tramway service in Wales (Swansea Tramways).

6th February 1902
Inauguration of the first ‘surface-contact’ electric street tramway service in the British Isles (Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways).

14th May 1902
Withdrawal of the last steam-hauled tramway service in Scotland (Dundee City Tramways). The steam services had been inherited from Dundee and District Tramways, following the corporation’s takeover of that system on 31st May 1899.

22nd July 1909
Withdrawal of the last steam-hauled street tramway service in England (Rawtenstall Corporation Tramways). The steam services had been inherited from the Rossendale Valley Tramways Company, following the corporation’s takeover of that system on 1st October 1908.

7th July 1917
First electric street tramway closure in the British Isles (Sheerness and District Tramways).

23rd September 1919
Responsibility for tramways passes from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Transport

5th February 1920
Withdrawal of the last horse-drawn tramway service in Scotland (Stirling and Bridge of Allen Tramways).

8th August 1920
Closure of the last gas-powered tramway system in the British Isles (Neath Corporation Tramways).

October 1921
Withdrawal of the last ‘surface contact’ electric tramway service in the British Isles (Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways).

23rd June 1923
Withdrawal of the last cable-hauled tramway service in Scotland (Edinburgh Corporation Tramways). The cable services had been inherited from Edinburgh and District Tramways, following the corporation’s takeover of that system on 1st July 1919.

14th July 1924
Opening of the last ‘first generation’ electric street tramway in the British Isles (Dearne District Light Railways).

14th July 1924
Closure of the first municipally-owned tramway in the British Isles (Keighley Corporation Tramways).

29th January 1925
First electric street tramway closure in Ireland (Dublin and Lucan Electric Railway).

3rd May 1926
First electric street tramway closure in Scotland (Kilmarnock Corporation Tramways).

3rd May 1926
Closure of the last steam-hauled tramway in England (Wolverton and Stony Stratford). This line was effectively a roadside tramway with very limited street running.

6th October 1926
Closure of the last horse-drawn tramway in England (Morecambe Corporation Tramways).

7th July 1927
First electric street tramway closure in Wales (Wrexham and District Electric Tramways).

30th September 1927
Closure of the last cable-hauled tramway in England (Matlock Cable Tramway).

31st December 1927
Closure of the last steam tram-hauled passenger service in England (Wisbech and Upwell Tramway). Note that the line was actually a roadside railway with some tramway characteristics. Its distinctive steam tramway locomotives were the inspiration for the Reverend W Awdry’s ‘Toby the Tram Engine’.

Spring 1929
Withdrawal of the last steam-hauled tramway service in Wales (Swansea and Mumbles Railway). Electric services began on 2nd March 1929.

Spring 1929
Closure of the last horse-drawn tramway system/service in Wales, and thus mainland Britain (Pwllheli and Llanbedrog Tramways). The decision to abandon the tramway was taken following a severe storm that had washed away a quarter of a mile of line in the previous October.

19th August 1929
Closure of the Upper Douglas Tramway, leaving the Great Orme Tramway as the sole surviving cable-hauled tramway in the British Isles (still in operation today).

31st January 1933
Closure of the last steam-hauled tramway service in Ireland (Castlederg and Victoria Bridge Tramway). Note that this line - like many others in Ireland - was a roadside tramway, not a true street tramway.

4th August 1951
Closure of Gateshead and District Tramways, the last holding of the once extensive tramway empire of the British Electric Traction Company Limited.

June 1952
Withdrawal of the last electric ‘conduit’ tram service in the British Isles (London Transport). These services were formerly those of London County Council Tramways, which was taken over by London Transport on 1st July 1933.

24th March 1956
Closure of the last electric street tramway in Wales (Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Electric Railway).

30th September 1957
Closure of the last horse-drawn tramway service in Ireland (Fintona Branch of the Great Northern Railway of Ireland). This was actually a railway that used a horse-drawn tramcar; its closure leaving the Douglas Bay Tramway in the Isle of Man as the British Isles’ sole remaining horse-drawn tramway (still in operation today).

31st May 1959
Closure of the last electric street tramway in Ireland (Hill of Howth Tramway).

4th September 1962
Closure of the last electric street tramway in Scotland (Glasgow Corporation Tramways). This left Blackpool Corporation Tramways as the sole remaining electric street tramway in the British Isles (still running today).

6th April 1992
Opening of the first ’second generation’ urban electric tramway in the British Isles (Manchester Metrolink).