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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Sixteen New Single Deck Trams 1 - 16

Not a headline to raise any speculation. Actually a referral to better times in British tramway history when the late 1920's and early 1930s saw a renaissance of new tram design and construction for diverse systems up and down the country. The more 'modern' cars elbowing out first generation electric rolling stock of the traditional open top or balcony double deck variety so beloved of preservationists these days.

Single deck trams were very much the exception to the rule in Britain - with double deck cars predominant in most systems. And new single deck cars after 1920 were certainly limited to seaside open types or oddities like the Dearne & District Tramway which started late and ended early, using very spartan two axle trams to convey miners and their family members in and around Barnsley. A handful even made it to the Fylde coast to pass on their 'comforts' to the citizenry of Lytham St Annes for a brief spell.

One system converting entirely from double deck to single deck was that of the Falkirk & District Tramway Company when it ordered sixteen new trams from Brush in 1929 (in two tranches). These smart dome roof neat four axle cars circumnavigated a circular line around the town in what must have been a very repetitive existence for the crews. Converted to bus operation like most of Scotland's smaller tram systems, one example (14) has survived into preservation in storage locally.

The onset of serious bus (and trolleybus) competitors to outmoded trams was on the minds of most operators, and ignored by others such as LCC, Manchester and Birmingham to name but some. Quite a number of enterprising managers took matters into their own hands to improve the condition and image of their tramways. Notable among these was Halifax Corporation's manager whose Skircotes Road Depot saw design and construction of enclosed two axle single deck trams in the late 1920s. The hilly nature of Halifax and its narrow gauge tramway meant it was limited to open balcony (and open top) double deck trams on two axles. Nonetheless it suffered quite extensively from both runaways and overturned cars due to strong wind gusts on the many exposed steep inclines. Despite all this an improved double deck design with involvement of English Electric saw introduction of a series of new trams during the 1930s. Halifax continued its services up until late 1939 just as war was about to break out but this did not save the remaining trams.

Neighboring Bradford went one better with a quite revolutionary centre entrance single deck tram (four axle) also workshop built in 1930. Intended a prototype for a potential new fleet Number 1 boasted driver controlled air operated centre doors and a fast speed due to motors from EE's Preston plant similar to deliveries on the company's Warsaw tram contract (and in southern Poland previously). Sadly it did not provide the breakthrough intended, partly because of a doubling of cost of the newbuild. Bradford, like Halifax, would soldier on with traditional open balcony double deckers, again because of hilly conditions and a narrow track gauge. This system ended in 1950 with one car (104) preserved in that city's industrial museum (along with a horse tram and trolleybus).

In 1926 Glasgow also determined to launch its own single deck prototype as a fast passenger flow testbed for the lengthy reserved track services which ran outside the city boundary. Number 1089 duly appeared on Brill 77E1 type bogies with a metal domed roof seating 24 with front exit doors. A one-off and after several modifications it surprised everyone by running in peak hour service almost up to the end of that city's great tramway system in September 1962. By good fortune its survival saw its inclusion in the tram museum which emerged initially at Coplawhill Works Paintshop and since migrated (twice) to a purpose built transport exhibition on the River Clyde less than a half mile from its former home at Partick Depot.

Glasgow experimental single deck car 1089 on tour (Above) and on display at the Clydebank Riverside Museum. Both Images John Woodman

Nor was this all. Sunderland Corporation purchased a solitary large single deck tram to operate a service limited by a low bridge (until this was eased). Brush Company again was the builder and the tram would end up finding a new home in Leeds to provide a further testbed vehicle for proposed tram subways in the 1930s. The latter was still borne due to the war and by way of recompense some extensive reconstruction saw number 600 (as it became) emerge as a centre entrance car in 1954. Its life being very brief in this form but again longevity proved to have a silver lining with its purchase by enthusiasts for the then embryonic Crich museum in 1959. Now in that collection alongside a postwar and more advanced version - 600 is for the moment stored off-site.

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