Edinburgh Corporation Tramways – Tramway of Memories Past

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Painted dark red and white, these four-wheeled, double-decker trams are part of the Edinburgh Corporation Tramways. Opened on July 1, 1919, the Edinburgh Tramways had a total route length of 76.04 km.

Back when it first opened, the trams were horse-drawn as a replacement of the earlier horse-drawn coach system. The famous architect Sir James Gowans, together with the engineer John Macrae, laid the tracks for this tramway.

A surviving track next to the road Photo Credit

In 1888, Edinburgh Northern Tramways started the first cable-hauled trams. Part of the winding gear can still be seen on the side of the Royal London Offices. In 1904, the Leith Corporation took over the horse-drawn tramlines and in 1905, Scotland’s first electric tram system was introduced.

Tramcar pulley unit Photo Credit

Later in 1920, the Edinburgh Corporation took ownership. The difference between these two corporations was that the Leith system was electrified, while the Edinburgh system used cable haulage–the same system used in San Francisco today

After two years, the Edinburgh Corporation made the bold decision to convert the entire system to electric traction. The last cable tram was in use until 1923 and its rail can still be seen today in Waterloo Place.

Cable car tracks on Waterloo Place Photo Credit

The innovation that was introduced by the Edinburgh Corporation, namely the first motor bus, was the beginning of the end for the tramway. After the Word War II, almost all of the tramways were closed as a result of the transition to diesel buses. The last remaining tram was finally removed on 16 November 1956.

The old Shrubhill tram depot Photo Credit

Changing political power played a major role in the demise of the city’s tram system. In addition, the growing popularity of the motor car following Word War II added fuel to the fire, with motorists claiming the tramways obstructed traffic.

McHardy & Elliot, Leeds Forge, English Electric, and Pickering were the four private makers of Edinburgh Standard tram cars, running their business from 1922 to 1934.

U.S. Navy sailors from the aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) in front of a double-decker tram in Edinburgh Photo Credit

These cars were four-wheelers featuring opened balconies on the upper decks. Later editions of the cars had enclosed balconies that were subsequently added to the standard version.

One of the cars from line 35 was saved after the tramway was discontinued and placed in a small museum at the Shrubhill Depot.

City and Royal Burgh of Edinburgh No. 35 on display in the Exhibition Hall at Crich Tramway Museum Photo Credit

Bad luck followed, however, and the museum had to be closed due to roof leakage. The tramcar was moved one final time to the National Tramway Museum where it remains on display as a reminder of the progress of technological evolution.

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