Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A streetcar named …

HS2 might be hitting the news at the moment, but Three Shires has been looking into the arrival of Britain’s first street railway (basically a tram pulled by horses), which was making waves in 1860. Patented by an American – one Mr George Francis Train (really, we’re not making this up) – and installed at his own expense, the new railway stretched for 1.5 miles between Woodside Ferry and Birkenhead Park.

Each carriage could carry 20–30 people inside, with the same number on the open top deck. Two horses pulled each car, and they were said to keep up a steady 7–8 miles an hour with no ill effects. Each pair of wheels had its own broom which swept stones and other debris out of the way.

The street railway was said to be far more comfortable and reliable than the old-style trams, and the line was so successful that it was soon extended. Three similar routes were opened in London, but these met with strong local opposition and did not last long.

Francis Train sold the Birkenhead Street Railway Company in 1876, when it became the Birkenhead Tramways Company. The tramline lasted until 1937, when the petrol motor-bus became the new state of the art.

The picture shows the street railway at its opening on 30 August 1860. Mr Train is standing top left, with his arm outstretched, and, no doubt, his fingers crossed!


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