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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Private Sector Tramways

The colourful pageant of tramway history has many tales to tell - diverting from the long familiar municipal enterprise of the late 19th century and early 20th when the role of electric power forever did away with horse drawn urban railed transport. It was of course closely followed by motorbus and attendant road building interests which would in time come to supersede initial dominance of the tramcar.

Among the more unusual origins of tramway development were initiatives springing from enterprising landowners and industrial concerns. In the US two examples spring to mind widely dispersed across that enormous landmass. Butte, Montana was the site of America's largest copper producer, American Copper, which exploited the mineral lode to the extent of requiring a company town to house thousands of workers. The need for fast and efficient transportation to the mining operation resulted in construction of an electric tramway by the Anaconda company who created a special division to operate 30 cars. The service operated up to 1951 with a rare practise of each rider being assessed for having begun work from the point of boarding the 'trolley' to begin a day's shift.

Much further east in Pennsylvania the town of Hershey, which gave its name to the chocolate manufacturer a US equivalent in brand recognition as Cadbury became in the UK - similarly needed workers for its diverse operations in a rural part of the state, noted for dairy farming. An extensive trolley system was built by the company to link various communities. The classic American trolley operation was maintained by the Hershey Company to a very high standard right up to the end - and included special freight cars to carry milk from dairy farm lineside collection points along the tracks.

Two British tramways resonate with not dissimilar origins - both in Scotland. In Fife, the private Wemyss family estate saw a surge of coal mining in the late 19th century with a ribbon of small villages created in proximity to the pits. The Wemyss family financed a tramway which ran through many, if not most, of these isolated communities providing scheduled services for shiftwork miners. Relatively small single deck cars running on mostly single track with passing loops provided the service until augmented with larger bogies cars as the build up of coal production called for more capacity. Painted in the Wemyss family colours -the fleet was added to with some long single deck trams bought from the Potteries tramway company in later years.

A further interesting tramway in Scotland involved the upmarket golfing hotel at Cruden Bay in the northeast of that country. Here a short electric line with just two purpose built trams (by the regional railway company) shuttled people and luggage from the nearest railway station directly to the hotel forecourt. A purpose build trailer was used also to carry linen to and from the hotel to an adjoining laundry facility. One of the two unique trams (on a Peckham truck acquired from the Zurich tramways no less) has been fully restored and is on static display.

Scottish interests in the aftermath of World War One (The Great War) took in an opportunistic purchase of a coal mining company in the aftermath of that war - in south western Poland at Dombrowa. Until 1919 this has been part of Imperial Germany but in the shifting borders that followed on the Treaty of Versailles, this part of Silesia had been assigned to Poland (along with other territory). The Polish Government benefitted from British economic ties with the result that the English Electric Company found itself with lucrative (one hopes) contracts for the construction or upgrade of power stations and electricity distribution in the Warsaw area. In turn this included reequipping two suburban electric tramways with new four axle single deck trams suited to extreme cold weather conditions of that country. A further contract was also secured from the management of the newly purchased Dombrowa mining company to build and supply trams for a new line linking the mines to the closest town at Sosnowicz where an existing (previously German tram system in the Kattowitz/Kattowice industrial belt) had one of its long urban routes.

Thus not dissimilar trams built in Preston ran for the interwar years and throughout World War Two (when the Polish German border reverted more or less to its pre 1914 boundary) on the Sosnowicz and Dombrowa service. The cars were replaced in the late 1960s and sadly no examples of this rare UK tram export have survived. Understandably the UK ownership of the Dombrowa mining operation and tramway interest lapsed in 1939 and was never to revive.

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