9th February 2021 · ‘Steam Trams – locomotives on the streets’

Presenter: Paul Abell

On 9 February we were joined by 44 Zoomers to hear Paul Abell’s presentation “Steam Trams – Locomotives on the Streets”. Paul started by explaining that the Steam Tram was a steam loco specially built or modified to run on a street or roadside tramway track and it was all over in 30 years to be replaced by electric trams or buses. Most of the tram systems operated on standard gauge or 3’6” although there was a small number of other gauges used.

A change in the law in 1879 opened up a short-lived boom in Steam Tramway systems in which no fewer than 45 new tramways were opened with Birmingham having the biggest network. We then saw a wonderful selection of historical and atmospheric photos of Steam Trams and their trailers, both in action and at rest on a lot of the networks.

We also visited the Streetlife Museum of Transport in Hull where I also photographed, a few years ago, the Kitson of Leeds built 1882 Steam Tram for export to Northern Ireland. With a top speed of 8mph it had 380 condensing tubes like a huge radiator which cooled the steam back to water so that it could be reused. This became Portstewart Tramway No.1 with No. 2 being also preserved at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. We saw New South Wales Steam Tram No. 47 at Crich where they also have the Manchester, Bury and Rochdale Steam Tram No. 84, which is still awaiting restoration and the only surviving trailer.

Paul then concluded his show with photos of Steam Tram Models which had been donated to the Science Museum in 1943 in store at the York Railway Museum. However, the best was yet to come as, in a grand finale, we saw one of David Holt’s films taken in September 2019 in Bern, Switzerland of the Berner – Tramway – Gesellschaft AG, operating the historic 1894 SLM built example for the benefit of tourists and locals alike on selected days throughout the year. Absolutely amazing, I don’t think our Health and Safety rules in the UK would allow it, more’s the pity!

Thanks, Paul for a super show, very much enjoyed by all present on this much neglected subject.