Why were trams closed down and removed in British and other cities

It was certainly not the case that trams in cities fell out of use because they were unpopular with users. This is demonstrated by the fact that when trams were replaced by buses, patronage immediately declined by 30% – see the three well referenced articles quoted below.

However there was competition for trams following WW1 when buses which had been manufactured specifically for use as troop transports were sold off for scrap.  These in the hands of private operators could “cherry pick” passengers from tram stops as they had no timetable. As a result regulation was introduced in 1932.

Trams were removed from the 30s onwards partly  because they impeded car owners wanting to drive freely in cities. It was thought that by getting rid of trams, and replacing them with diesel buses, everyone could get around faster.  This did not happen, ( see London tram removal below) as tram users did not like the buses, and started buying cars. The drive for tramway closure came from a few vociferous Members of Parliament with interests in the car  manufacturing business.This has lead to the present mess in UK cities, but not in cities that retained them, as in Germany, or France that has reinstalled over 27, on realising their grave error.

At the end of WW2 when wholesale removal of trams occurred, only 5% of persons had a car and it was thought by the authorities that they had no choice when the trams were replaced by buses, but this was not the case as they  progressively bought cars. In three major cities, London, Liverpool and Leeds it is well documented ( below) that when trams were replaced with modern buses which were actually faster, the patronage dropped by 30% as the patrons switched to cars or other means of transport,

The closure of most tramways was opposed by the residents of the towns and cities which used them ( see examples below)

local councils used profits from their trams to offset the rates and failed to make provision for renewal

Another factor is that local councils used profits from their trams to offset the rates and failed to make provision for renewing tracks and equipment. So by the 1930s tramways which had opened in the 1890s or 1900s were wearing out, and without reserves to renew them the cheapest option was to replace trams with buses. Those tramways which did survive the 1930s were neglected in the war and were closed in the 1940s or 1950s. (David Walmsley – David Walmsley –  Transport Analyst BSc –  PhD, CMILT, MCIHT, tram technical lead. Member of UKTram; UK Rep on European Urban Tram Forum; formerly Fixed Track Executive at Confederation of Passenger Transport).

Also there was a shift in regulation in the 1950/60s. Parking could only be done in designated spaces prior to then but was changed to our current model where parking is allowed anywhere unless prohibited. This enabled significant increase in ownership and has resulted in our current clogged streets full of on-street parking. ( Adam Reynolds – Bath cycling)

Notice the very rapid change in household ownership of cars. In 1951, nationally, 80% of households did not have motor cars. By 1970 this had shrunk to something like 40%. https://www.racfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/car-ownership-in-great-britain-leibling-171008-report.pdf
Car use increased massively during the 1950s and 60s for all sorts of reasons, including increasing prosperity and suburban development, and these developments could not easily be serviced by buses or trams so the new house owners needed to have cars to get to the cities to work, creating congestion.
Further article on London Tram abandonment: https://bathtrams.uk/london-tram-abandonment/

Beneficial interaction between housing, development and tram lines – the concentration of passengers

Car use increased massively during the 1950s and 60s for all sorts of other reasons of course, including increasing prosperity and suburban development. It was not just down to buses.

One of the main reasons given for not installing trams or trolleybus networks are that they are fixed to a given route and cannot be diverted at a moments notice. In the case of London’s trolleybuses the LCC required LT to pay for the upkeep of the poles that supported the wires and thus they were replaced by the Routemaster.

However the fact is that people (and developers)  like trams because they are on a fixed route – they can invest in buying a house opening a shop or business knowing the transport service will be there for many many years to come.

Tram users in the 1930’s between Croydon and Embankment in London needed no timetables as there was always a tram in sight.
Just as with the London Tube network where the lines were built the people went to live, work and go to school the same applies to tram routes. Once they were abandoned, houses tended to become more dispersed leading to users purchasing cars and then driving into the cities.
(Clive Hinchcliffe)


Bus usage pattern

Bus use peaked in 1955 and has been dropping at about 1.5% per year ever since.  A big drop occured during a 6 week bus strike in 1958 and never recovered

London tram abandonment

From Wikipedia:

The market for trams became smaller as other tramways were being forced to close at that time, as the 1948 nationalisation of electricity suppliers removed access to cheap electricity for those undertakings which owned their local power company.[17]

A.B.B. Valentine, one of the five full-time members of the London Transport Executive, saw trams as a major cause of road congestion, which would be relieved by the introduction of buses, with the aesthetic benefit of doing away with overhead wires and their noisy operation.[18] A report in The Economist in 1952 suggested a more comprehensive list of reasons for their demise, including:

  • the 1870 Tramways Act, which placed a great financial burden on the operator for road maintenance even though it was not responsible for all the wear[19]
  • London had streets that were too narrow, unlike continental cities.
  • London’s housing developments were too far away from tram routes
  • authorities were prejudiced against trams

The capital cost of replacing and updating the worn out infrastructure and trams was also seen as prohibitive when compared with the £9 m capital cost of buying buses with a slightly smaller carrying capacity.[18]

“Operation Tramaway”, the replacement of the tram service by diesel buses, was announced in July 1950 by Lord Latham of the London Transport Executive. Retirement started in October 1950 and London’s last trams ran in the early hours of 6 July 1952 to a rousing reception at New Cross Depot.[20]

No general improvement in traffic flow was seen after the trams were withdrawn.[18]

The Campaign To Save the London Trams 1946-1952 Based on the Collected Papers Of The late Alan John Watkins By Ann E. Watkins

from: http://www.kentarchaeology.ac/authors/019.pdf


In the Journal Passenger Transport of August 1949, it is mentioned that:
The changeover from trams to buses in South London was much in accordance with the modern trend of thought regarding the most efficient mode of transport for street passengers. Surprise was expressed in this journal that there was a body calling itself “The Tramway Development Council.”
It was stated in Modern Tramway May 1949 that Lord Latham advocated the scrapping of the trams in order to rid the London streets of traffic congestion. It was maintained that because trams ran on rails, thus fixing them to a route, other vehicles could not bypass them and, consequently, caused severe traffic congestion.

See Also: https://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/title/history-of-london-transport/author/barker/first-edition/


Leeds abandonment

J Soper’s book volume 1V “Leeds Transport: 1953 – 1974 v. 4″ covers the  Leeds tram abandonment. Up until 1953 the Conservative Council ran the trams at a profit, but the Labour party came in on a ticket of abandoning the trams and replacing them with modern buses. This they did by 1979. There was an immediate drop in passenger numbers and the bus service then ran at a loss. The bus passengers then all bought cars with the resulting present mess in Leeds.

The accounts of Leeds tramway were not properly scrutinised until many years after closure.  It was then found that the costs of repair and garaging the replacement bus fleets had been charged to the remaining tram routes and made them appear uneconomical.

A senior official of of Leeds tramways was been found to be related to a lorry and bus engine manufacturer.  He had new trams made to a design which was known give greatly increased track wear.


Liverpool Tram abandonment:

Liverpool had a thriving tram system, and it was closed down on the casting vote of the Chairman, despite a 240,000 petition calling for it to stay open. Again the ex tram users all bought cars and then clogged the city.  (Prof. Lewis Lesley BSc, AKC, PhD, CEng, FRSA, MICE, FCIT, MTPS)

Liverpool Transport Vol. 4 cover the period when the decision to abandon the trams was made (1948).
by JB Horne and TB Maund


Bristol Tram Abandonment

John Hitchings Bath Trams I’ve had a brief look at the local history part on the website and don’t have much to add. However the reasons for withdrawing the trams in Bristol and Bath need to be fully explained.
Bristol Tramways were eligible to be bought by the Council every 7 years – because of this the tramway company had no justification for modernising the system. The council decided to exercise its option and together with the Tramway Company formed Bristol Joint Services in 1937 and agreed to abandon the tram system over a period of two years. The trams would be replaced by buses owned by the Tramway Company whilst the vehicles would be housed in depots owned by the council. The fact that the tram abandonment had to be delayed and was ended because the main cable was destroyed by a bomb is largely irrelevant – there were only 2 remaining tram services and these would have been replaced by buses anyway. The new buses were already in storage and simply entered service the following day. The agreement for joint operation of bus services only ceased in 1988 when Bristol City Council had to give up its share as a requirement of the 1985 Transport Act.
Bath trams were never owned by the council but the infrastructure was becoming worn out and repairs were causing traffic jams in the narrower streets despite the system running in a one way circuit in the centre of the city. In addition, it was easier to operate buses instead of trams because Lansdown, Bathwick Hill and Ralph Allen Drive were too steep for trams and were already served by buses. It’s ironic that Ralph Allen Drive was too steep as this had originally been a horse drawn tramway for the stone quarries! Under the original Light Railway order in 1901, Bath City Council were able to compulsory purchase the tramway after 32 years. So yet again there was no incentive for the Tramway Company to modernise. Bath City Council decided to take up their powers in a 1936 Bill which would have enabled them to purchase Bath Electric Tramways and the Bath Tramways Motor Company. The Bill also authorised them to abandon the tramway system. In the end the council decided not to exercise its option and Bristol Tramways offered to buy the system instead having purchased 96% of Bath Tramways in 1936. The agreement to abandon Bath’s trams was signed on 27th July 1937 between the city council and Bristol Tramways purely because the system was life expired and buses were (at the time) cheaper to operate. The fact that Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company also built buses must have been a major factor as well – even though most of the tram replacement buses in Bath were bought secondhand from Maidstone & District. Had the decision been made to modernise the system, things may have been different but with the outbreak of WW2, there was no appetite to reintroduce trams to Bath.
I’m intrigued by your comments about Lansdown Hill. I worked at the MoD site at Ensleigh and in snowy conditions have been turned around by the Farmhouse pub by a police officer because the road was too dangerous and this was also certainly the case in the 60’s and 70’s from talking to colleagues.
I’ve also never heard of Lansdown having under road heating. Do you have a source for this? – Adrian Tuddenham, a  local tram expert and tram historian.

Here is Adrian’s response:

A.Tuddenham via mail.plus.net 

16:16 (45 minutes ago)

to me
>…In addition, it was easier to operate buses instead of trams
>because Lansdown, Bathwick Hill and Ralph Allen Drive were too steep for
>tramsThe techniques of electrically heating the rails were in their infancy in those days (and depended on AC supplies, whereas the tramways used DC and would have had to take an additional AC supply from the public electricity system). Also there was very little source of revenue at the end of those routes, so they weren’t worth the capital outlay.

Systems for electrically de-icing the conductor rails were in use on some above-ground sections of the London tube network by the 1960s, but I don’t know when they were originally installed (they could have been pre-war); one of my colleagues worked on them and told me about the operating procedures.

>The agreement to abandon Bath’Äôs trams was signed on 27th
>July 1937 between the city council and Bristol Tramways purely because the
>system was life expired and buses were (at the time) cheaper to operate.

That was the reason given at the time, but a lot of people believed it was not the real reason.  The trams were very much under-invested by that time because the fares were regulated by the Council and their accounting system didn’t allow for replacement equipment.  The massive increase in fares per mile, once the buses had no competition, showed that either buses were really not cheaper – or the bus company was using the new unregulated fare structure to maximise profit at the expense of public utility.

>…there was no appetite to reintroduce trams to

There was widespread public opposition to the closure of the tramways and people were still grumbling about it until well after the war.  They just couldn’t do anything about it.

Im the late 1960s I remember nearly starting a riot in a Birmingham bus queue by asking about how their tram service compared with buses.  They would have had the trams back in a flash if the choice had been theirs.

>I’Äôm intrigued by your comments about Lansdown Hill. I worked at the MoD
>site at Ensleigh and in snowy conditions have been turned around by the
>Farmhouse pub by a police officer because the road was too dangerous and
>this was also certainly the case in the 60’Äôs and 70’Äôs from talking to
>I’Äôve also never heard of Lansdown having under road heating. Do you have a
>source for this?

It was an article in the Bath Chronicle at the time (sorry, I don’t have a reference) – and I believe the heated stretch was from just above The Farmhouse to the fork by the church.  It was done at the behest of the bus company, but I think the cost of it came on the rates.  I remember commenting at the time that it wouldn’t last long once they found out what it cost to run – and we never heard any more about it.  That is the advantage of heated tram rails, you only heat the bit that is needed.

( Adrian Tuddenham is a highly qualified electrical design engineer.  He says ” My knowledge of trams comes from electrical engineering courses of many
years ago (when they were still on the syllabus), from reading the books written by the real hands-on experts who built the tramways in the first place and from talking to the people who remembered using the trams. ”

Bath Trams

There were all sorts of behind-the-scenes factors at work:

The Bath trams were owned by the Bristol bus company.  Tram fares were fixed by the council, but bus fares were not; the bus company was able to
set higher fares if they replaced trams by buses.

The tramway company had to maintain a lot of the road surface at their own expense, buses did not.

Because of the enforced low fares the tramway company hadn’t got a track and equipment replacement programme in place, so by 1939 a lot of the track was badly in need of replacement.


Nearly all French trams were removed at the end of WW2 as they were thought to be outmoded.  However over 27 have now been re-installed specifically to reduced congestion and to regenerate town centers.


During the cold war the modern West Berlin removed its trams and opted for cars, buses and congestion.  The East retained its tram network. After re-unification it was noted by the authorities that the former East Berlin was far less congested and accordingly West Berlin is re-installing its trams.

While East Berlin’s streetcars soldiered on under communist rule, West Berlin tore up the tracks. Now, the city is correcting its mistake.https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2017/05/berlins-streetcars-go-west/525246/


Sydney Abandonment:

Trams were abandoned in Sydney by 1961.  The authorities soon realised their mistake.  A tram system is not being re-installed in an effort to cut congestion.  Melbourne which retained the tram system is celebrated as an excellent city to get around in due to the tram.

From  – Light Rail Developers’ Handbook by Prof. Lewis Lesley BSc, AKC, PhD, CEng, FRSA, MICE, FCIT, MTPS (ISBN: 9781604270488)


his article from the Daily Mail, explains how the original tram network was removed in the mistaken belief that it would ease congestion.  They soon regretted it as congestion rapidly worsened.  Melbourne retained its network and is a much better city to travel in  as a result.


PUBLISHED: 05:37, 8 January 2016 | UPDATED: 06:03, 8 January 2016

Sydney’s original tram system was one of the largest in the world and carried more than one million people daily The city decided to shut the tram system down and replace it with buses in the early 1960s. The decision was unpopular with the public and within a few years the city council regretted the decision
Just 55 years later, New South Wales is spending $2.1 billion to replace the rail throughout the city and southeast

In its heyday the Sydney tram network moved about one million people around the city every day before it was shut down against popular opinion in the 1960s – only to make a resurgence 55 years later.

Historical images show the bustling tram system that was once one of the largest in the world, transporting Sydneysiders back and forth to  work from 1899 to the late 1950s.

Sydney’s bustling tram network peaked in the 1930s and 1940s when it was carrying more than one million people to and from work every day. A tram travels down George Street in 1890 (pictured) – one year after the first electric tram travelled down the busy street

One of the busiest streets for transportation in the early 1900s was George Street (pictured) and it remains to be a transportation hub Sydney, which is why the new tram system runs directly down the street

In 2016, just 55 years after the historic system shut down in the 1960s, construction on a new $2.1billion light rail system to rebuilt the former system has forced George Street to close (pictured)

A $2.1billion extension to the city’s light rail is now underway to bring the trams back, a move that has forced the closure of George

A spokesman for Transport for NSW said they couldn’t comment on why the previous rail had been removed, or if the lack of foresight is

‘We’re just dealing with what is in front of us right now,’ the spokesman said.

The issue is severe congestion in the city during peak hours and a rapidly growing population.

‘Currently, on every weekday morning, more than 1,600 buses enter the CBD, causing congestion and lengthy delays. CBD streets simply cannot
cope with the extra buses needed to meet Sydney’s forecast growth,’ he said.

The King’s Cross area in 1900 (pictured) when trams drove alongside horse-drawn carts. By 1898, the city’s trams became electric and most
of the system was converted from steam by 1910

Sydney and Australia’s first tram was a horse-drawn car that ran down Pitt Street from Railway station to Circular Quay.

By 1898, the city’s trams became electric and most of the system was converted from steam by 1910, according to railpage.com.au.

The system began to close down section by section in the late 1950s and the last tram ran in 1961, exactly 100 years from the opening of
the first city tram.

Better efficiency, crowded roads and carts were listed by the city as reasons to shut down the system and replace the trams with buses.

The construction on the new system is expected to be complete in three years and the rail will be up and running in 2019

Within a few years it was apparent to the city council that the buses were not sufficient but it was too late to go back as the trams had
been destroyed and many of the rails were covered.

The tram system isn’t the only new feature being added to George Street.

The city has pitched in $220 million for the tram but also to expand the footpaths to create more space for cafés and restaurants and to
improve surrounding laneways.

Larger footpaths will be added to provide more space for pedestrians and cafes



Melbourne tram retention

Are trams being removed in Melbourne? (No)