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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Bombay/Mumbai Tram Images Anyone ?

Work is ongoing to complete the next Rigby Road title now literally in the works. As I have an enforced spell of recuperation the silver lining is extra time it now gives me to focus on the forthcoming 'Those Elusive Centre Entrance Double Deck Trams' book. There are surprisingly a small number of entrants on the stage in this story from beginning to end - which naturally finishes up in Blackpool (but starts on Broadway).

A missing piece in the sequence of centre entrance double deck tram design which I am trying to fill is the section on Bombay - now Mumbai. The British managed transport company (BEST) had a prediliction for double deck vehicles both buses and trams - in contrast to its fellow tram operator in West Bengal (Calcutta). The latter pursued a design introduced yet again by English Electric's team in Preston in the early 1930s - featuring articulated single deck trams but with the two sections being completely seperate without any access for crew or passengers. This approach was consistent from the 1930s to the present day with successive rebuilds and rebodied (and new) models appearing over the decades.

Bombay however stuck resolutely to British practise much like Hong Kong and Johannesburg (and others) in South Africa - with double deck trams dominating fleets. One South African example from Johannesburg managed to make it all the way back to the mother country and can be seen (and ridden) at the Crich Museum in glorious open top balcony and platform format. Rear open platform models were prevalent mostly of a four axle type. English Electric, (yet again) designed, built and shipped out a modern (second generation) version in the early 1930s - presumably to keep up with the Jones's in West Bengal. However Blackpool's seaside influence (and English Electric) may have played a role in convincing the BEST engineers to build centre entrance all enclosed double deck cars (double ended of course) from 1937 with some thirty being constructed up to the outbreak of war.

Lacking streamline styling they were a more utilitarian form of the then prevalent 'rush' to centre entrance trams briefly experienced (as this title recounts) in Britain. In fact the experience of passengers and crews was such that the trams were pretty quickly modified to end platform loading with the centre entrances boarded up whilst the stairs remained in the original positions. A somewhat cut price workshops approach but no doubt more speedily achieved. In this condition the cars soldiered on into the 1960s together with the 'standard' versions which dominated the system to the end. Sadly no trams survived from this otherwise fascinating system with its British flavour - extending to the bus fleet in much the same way. I dont believe any centre entrance buses were also operated by BEST but happy to be corrected on this.

A problem I have at the moment is lack of decent images of the centre entrance cars in operation by BEST both in their original form and as modified later. If anyone reading this blog has access to or can point to an immediate source I would be most grateful with appropriate credit (and perhaps even a discount) in the published book later this summer. I know Richard Wiseman was a prolific photographer in the war and postwar period by way of reference. There could well be other enthusiast readers with equally forthcoming knowledge. The excellent book on double deck trams around the world which covered the subject in a more generic style is of course a helpful reference. And the NTM Archive might be worth a try.... Thoughts on an email response or postcard are very welcome.....

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