Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Story of the Tram (4) : Rebirth

As we saw in part 3, the once extensive electric tram network was gradually run down and withdrawn until by the early 1960s only the Blackpool tram network remained. Was this the end of the electric tram as a major part of the British public transport mix and would the tram only now exist in museums (Blackpool excepted).

In the late 1970s the need for a new generation of light rail was by city planners and politicians, especially as a means to drive urban regeneration. The first example being the Tyne & Wear Metro which opened in 1980. The Docklands Light Railway was another light rail scheme in the 1980s which was a major component of the regeneration of the former dock area in East London.

In Manchester a new light rail system incorporating existing rail tracks and new street lines in the city centre was built called Metrolink. It opened in 1988 and heralded a wave of new modern tram systems which are slowly spreading across Britain's cities. Metrolink now stretches for over one hundred kilometres with ninety nine tram stops and is still expanding.

Metrolink was joined by new tram networks in Sheffield (1994), the West Midlands (1999), South London (2000), Nottingham (2004) and Edinburgh (2014). The venerable Blackpool system was also converted into a modern tram network in 2012, although heritage trams can and do still run in the town. It is likely there will be more networks opening in the coming decades and most of the existing ones have ongoing or planned extension works.

From near oblivion the electric street tram has returned to British towns and cities. Although the networks will never be anywhere near as extensive as they once were a hundred years ago millions of people, once again, travel for work or play along city streets in an electric tram.

Two Tramlink trams meet at Mitchem Junction in South London

Aboard a Tramlink tram

A Metrolink tram in Manchester

A West Midlands Metro tram in Birmingham