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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Trams, Mines and Mining

Carrying out research on further titles for potential features raised the interesting subject of tramways built specifically as adjuncts to the development of mining communities. A somewhat specialised theme but interesting nonetheless. The most northerly electric tramway in the world was at Kiruna in Norway - within the Arctic Circle and built specifically for the transport of workers to mines (not coal) of economic importance. No longer operating but with an extant preserved example of the blue painted cars used by the company - it is a topical starting point.

In the United States the famous name in copper - Anaconda, was the site of a specialist electric tramway to ferry workers to the Butte Hill mining operation. Financed, built and operated by the American Copper Mining Company this small town system lasted until the early 1950s as part of the company's business.

Shifting across oceans - the De Beers company in South Africa similarly financed and operated through subsidiaries the Kimblerley tramway which had at least three seperate entities including one entirely within the extensive diamond mine that surrounded the town. Operated with American built cross bench open cars for the most part - the last passenger carrying trams ran in the early 1960s but a single car was restored for a tourist heritage line that may (or may not) still operate on part of the original system.

In Belgium that country's national network - Vicinal - was responsible for tram operation across the industrial and mining regions of Hainault in familiar places such as Mons and Charleroi. Remnants were retained and upgraded to light rail in and around Charleroi where new investment and extensions are underway.

The closest example to a private company line in Britain was in Fife where the Wemyss family owned and managed coal mines requiring better transport links for the small villages and communities from which labour was sourced. Accordingly a privately financed electric tramway emerged - mostly single track with passing loops using two axle single deck trams. Painted distinctly in the family colours of yellow (most unlikely for a mining area) the Wemyss system succumbed to inevitable bus replacement in the 1930s. A Scottish interest was responsible for an interesting newbuild electric tramway in southern Poland in the aftermath of the Great War, when boundaries shifted along the newly created nation freed from Russian domination (sounds familiar). The Dombrowa mine in the Silesian coalfields was acquired by Scottish investors (with UK Government credits at the time) and promptly linked to the nearest tramway at Soscnowicz - then part of the Kattowitz urban network (a sort of Black Country grouping of connected tramways). New English Electric single deck trams were purchased to operate the service in this very rare example of British tramway influence in central europe.

Elsewhere the last traditional electric tram system to be built in the UK was the Dearne & District Light Railway running south from Barnsley to similarly connect small communities in the Dearne Valley. Again single deck utilitarian cars with side bench seats did nothing to endear the operation to the public, except for workers at the beginning and end of shifts. With a quite extensive network but mostly single track and loops the trams were no match for the more sprightly competing bus services which sprang up during the 1920s, and within a decade the company threw in the towel. A number of the relatively new (but basic) cars were sold off to Lytham St Annes Corporation and Falkirk for a few more years of service. Notable on the Dearne & District system was the 'Woodman' public house - South Yorkshire equivalent of 'Starr Gate'. No doubt there are quite a number of equally interesting connections between mines, mining and electric tram developments in the early part of the last century - and advice on further examples are welcome.

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