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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Broadway Dragons

Not something from 'Jurassic Park' or formidable landladies ! Actually the term given to centre entrance low floor cars introduced in New York City (Manhattan) in 1911. These quite formidable all steel built trams were designed in response to problems caused by ladies fashions of the time which limited lateral movement of their feet caused by the 'hobble skirt'. New York being particularly fashion conscious prompted the New York Railway company to design a very low floor car (conduit power) for its premier Broadway service. Below : An example (5083) loading at the northern terminus of the Broadway line in summer 1914. Note the open windows and driver's side cab door (and window).

Image : John Woodman Archive

A fleet of these four axle cars was built to provide ease of access for female passengers (in particular) and were promptly known as the 'Broadway Dragons' because of their quite fearsome frontal appearance. Several California towns and cities similarly operated the same design, whilst two examples were exported to Australia where one lasted in service for several decades and has become the principal mascot of the Western Australia tram museum at Perth.

The design led to an experimental double deck version: the famous 'Broadway Battleship' again centre entrance in the same period. In turn this unique car provided ideas for visiting UK tramway engineers and managers after the end of the Great War. The outcome of their visit (among other lessons) was design and construction of the 1929 experimental centre entrance Feltham number 331 of Metropolitan Tramways - now marvellously exhibited at Crich. Following on this prototype - English Electric's design team in Preston secured practical awareness of centre entrance styling and application on double deck trams - which quickly led to the series produced for Blackpool, Sunderland, Aberdeen in the following decade. This tale is covered in the new title by Rigby Road Publishing due out in the summer. A quite fascinating story from Broadway, Manhattan to Blackpool Promenade.

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