140 years of Edinburgh Trams
<Editor - this article was written in 2008. the opening date is now expected 2014>
Edinburgh Trams 1871 – 2011
The Edinburgh Street Tramways Company opened the first Tramway in Edinburgh on 6th November 1871, and now we will see the return of Trams to Edinburgh in 2011, 140 years after the first trams ran on the streets of Edinburgh.
For the original tramway it was decided that twenty cars were required for the 3.25 mile line from Haymarket to Bernard Street Leith to operate the horse drawn trams. The first tram arrived on 21st October and entered service when the line opened on 6th November 1871. It is difficult to determine exactly how many vehicles were delivered as it was found that the trams were too heavy to operate satisfactory and required to be replaced with an order of lighter weight vehicles.
These were double deck vehicles seating 18 inside and 18 on a knifeboard seat arrangement on the top deck. They measured 19ft by 14ft. The 36 inch diameter disc wheels were at 5ft centres. The lower saloon had seven plate glass windows (no Health & Safety in those days). Lighting was provided for night working at the ends of the vehicle by oil lamps.
The additional cars were built by the well-known local coachbuilders, John Croall & Co Edinburgh and were placed in service in February 1872. The newer cars weighed 33 cwts (a saving of 14 cwts).
The next route to open in May 1872 was from the Post office to Newington. This route required 4 cars to operate. Later routes were to Grange Cemetery, then Grange- Churchill- West End.
By 1873 the running situation was, Haymarket to Bernard Street, trams 1,4,5,9,10,12, 14-17; Newington to Bernard Street, trams 2,6,7,11 & 13; West End to Stanley Road, trams 3 & 8 plus from July 38 & 39, and on the new Waterloo Place to Portobello line, trams, 33-36 plus 37 as a spare, all based at the small Portobello depot.
With the excessive costs for keeping horse the Directors if the Edinburgh Street Tramway Co were looking at alternatives. Mechanical traction was in vogue in the mid 1870’s and in 1875 an Edinburgh tram was loaned to Mr Scott-Moncrieff and fitted wit a compressed air engine. This was an old car which was lengthened to make a central compartment for the motor. Whilst it never ran in Edinburgh it did see service on the Vale of Clyde Tramways. Steam tram engines were experimented in Edinburgh with eventually two Kitson Engines seeing regular service.
By 1877 the condition of the trams had deteriorated and an attempt to find new trams was initiated. First two 54-seaters were purchased from Stephenson of New York, with full drop windows and venetian blinds. Three trams came from Boyall of Grantham; two trams from Starbuck of Birkenhead.
The immediate result of the purchase of the new trams, the fleet now consisted of 52, was the reorganisation of the Shrubhill work. The end result was the appearance of the first tram built entirely at Shrubhill works in May 1879. It was the first of a long line stretching to 1950 of trams produced in Edinburgh. Approximately 8 trams were produced per year over the next 20 years and bus construction was also undertaken, and by 1881 the E S T Co owned 15 buses, not all of which were built in the works.
At the Edinburgh Exhibition of 1866 the Company displayed the precursor of what was to become their “standard” design for some years. The saloon had seven side windows with quarter lights above, which on most trams had a red glass with a design, alternating with Louvre ventilators. It had knife board type seating in the upper deck with sears for 16 and the lower deck had room for 18 seated passengers. The exhibit won a gold medal from the organisers.
During 1890 two trams were built in Shrubhill works to run on the Electrical Engineering Corporation’s electrical tramway in the grounds of the 1890 International Exhibition at Craiglockhart.
In 1893, prior to the split-up of the lines in Edinburgh, Leith & Portobello, the Company increased its stock from 84 to 100 trams, 84 close, 10 canopy, and 6 open. To run the new Edinburgh & District Tramways Company, the lessees, Dick Kerr & Co acquired 70 trams, leaving the E ST Company with 30 trams to run the workings in Portobello and Leith, although some through routes existed into Edinburgh.
Due to the hilly nature of Edinburgh it was decided that a better form of public transport was required. A Parliamentary bill was introduced as far back as 1883 to provide a similar system to that used in San Francisco in America. The first tram route to use the cable system opened on 28th January 1888. This consisted of a cable that ran continuously and each of the tram cars was fitted with a gripper which was applied to move the tram and released to bring the tram to a stop. Edinburgh Corporation received agreement to replace all the horse tram routes to cable routes in 1893. By the end of 1900 practically all of the 21.25 miles tram routes has been converted to cable operation.
A number of the old horse trams were converted to run on the cable system which appeared across Edinburgh. Ex horse cars 15, 17, 19, 53 and 113 were all still in service after conversion to be used by the cable system when it eventually closed in 1923. Trams 15, 17 & 19 were rebuilt as electric cars in 1919 and later became works cars.
The lease of the Post Office to Meadowbank section passed from EST Co to EDT Co on 31st January 1896. In August 1897 the EDT Co took over operation of the Edinburgh Northern Tramway Company’s cable tramways. By 1902 the EDT Co fleet consisted of 198 trams, 170 cable trams and 28 horse trams. After cabling of the Portobello route in 1902 the horse numbers dwindled. The EST Co lease of the lines in Leith expired on 22nd October 1904 and their tram fleet was purchased by Leith Corporation. By 1907 when the last horse trams ran on the route in Colinton Road Edinburgh the number had reduced to three.
The EDT Co lease expired in 1919 and the trams were then operated by Edinburgh Corporation Tramways. The Tramway operators realised that further extensions to the cable route were unlikely to be cost effective. New power station and a cable operating stations would be required. During this latter period the Leith Corporation tramways had converted to electric operation and the decision was taken to convert the trams to electric powered operation. Whilst the two systems ran concurrently for a short period as conversion took place, the last cable car tram ran on 23rd June 1923.
The Electric tramcar fleet was of a basic standard because of the numerous sharp curves on the system, and by the clearance required by the traverse in the Shrubhill Works. The many different types of trams was somewhat disguised by the rigid paint specification applied.
The fleet numbers were allocated in a haphazard system, probably dating to the earlier demand of magistrates licensing of the horse trams. Edinburgh very often numbered new trams as replacements rather than additions. It will be interesting to see what numbering system is adopted by TIE when the new Edinburgh trams enter service.
In July 1919 Edinburgh Corporation tramways took over the operation of the famous cable car system from the Edinburgh &District Tramways Company Ltd. In November 1920 the Leith Tramways Company was acquired when the two burghs were amalgamated. The District Tramways Company had operated 205 cable cars and 4 electric cars. The Leith Corporation Tramways fleet considered of 37 electric cars and one works car.
In 1952 a programme commenced to replace the entire tramway fleet with motor buses. The first few cars were scrapped at Shrubhill. The last of the old trams ran in November 1956.
The above is a combination and very much reduced summary of articles published in the STTS Scottish Transport Magazines which are available by back order through our web site as along as stock allows .
EDINBURGH HORSE TRAMCAR by ALAN W BROTCHIE is contained within edition No. 21 of the STTS "Scottish Transport" magazine, available through our sales pages whilst stocks last.
THE PLAIN MANS GUIDE TO EDINBURGH TRAMS by ALASTAIR G GUNN is contained within edition No. 14 of the STTS "Scottish Transport" magazine available through our sales pages whilst stocks last.
Following public consultation in 2003 plans for a new Tramway network for Edinburgh were agreed by the Scottish Parliament. Following approval and funding, preparation works commenced in 2007 and trams will run again in the streets of Edinburgh by 2011. 140 years after the first trams ran in Edinburgh.
The 27 new trams are being supplied by Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles of Spain.
Transdev will operate the tram service for Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (part of City of Edinburgh Council). Transdev globally operate tram networks in Nottingham, Australia, France, Spain and Portugal.
The trams will be 42.8 metres long, will be able to carry up to 250 passengers, consisting of 78 seats, 2 wheelchair spaces, and 170 standing passengers, they will be 100% low level floors and plenty of room for those with prams, buggies, pushchairs, bicycles and luggage. The top speed is 80 km/h (50mph), 1435 mm gauge, 750v DC overhead supply.
More details of the new Edinburgh Tramway system with ample photographs are contained under the relevant separate sections of our website.
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