Edinburgh trams: Inside last surviving cable powered tram undergoing full restoration at vintage bus museum

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In November 1956 many believed Edinburgh trams were destined to be a thing of the past – but one cable-powered tram survived the decades and is being resorted by a team of Capital tram historians

With a fleet of operational trams now carrying passengers to Leith and North Edinburgh for the first time in 67 years, we made a trip to the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum in Lathalmond, where the Capital’s last known surviving cable tram is being meticulously restored by a team of transport historians.

The official launch of the Trams to Newhaven Project is not only a milestone moment for the city but it is also 100 years this month since electric trams first traversed the full length of Leith Walk - and though all eyes are on the new tram route, members of The 226 Trust work inconspicuously in the background to revive a part of Edinburgh’s history.

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Lindsay Walls, a project trustee and volunteer guide at the museum, believes restoring the 119-year-old tram will protect the city’s transport heritage. He said: “There was a lot of thought put into them, inside they were Art Deco works of art – the 1930s Edinburgh trams are beautiful.”

Lindsay Walls is a volunteer guide at the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum in Lathalmond and a member of the 226 Trust. Lindsay said: "There are buses in here that have taken years to renovate and once they’re finished they really look superb and it’ll be the same with this one"Lindsay Walls is a volunteer guide at the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum in Lathalmond and a member of the 226 Trust. Lindsay said: "There are buses in here that have taken years to renovate and once they’re finished they really look superb and it’ll be the same with this one"
Lindsay Walls is a volunteer guide at the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum in Lathalmond and a member of the 226 Trust. Lindsay said: "There are buses in here that have taken years to renovate and once they’re finished they really look superb and it’ll be the same with this one"

Structure of the tram

Beginning life in 1903 as a cable-powered vehicle, tram 226 was rebuilt in the early 1920s as an electric tram when Edinburgh Corporation Tramways transitioned to an electrified network. Fitted with a new roof that could withstand the weight of a heavy trolley poll, the relic tramcar operated in the Capital until 1938 when it was decommissioned and later transformed into a holiday chalet in the Scottish Borders following its retirement.

Lindsay said: “The superstructure is almost completed but we would like to get the tram running again and that means a lot of hard work with engineers and experts. The idea is to get framework back on the tram, bogie wheels manufactured and be able to put it back on rails again.”

Along with other trustees, Lindsay is sourcing parts and crowdfunding to rejuvenate the antique tram which the team hope will be fully operational in the coming years. Lindsay said: “It requires a lot of funds and expertise. We have a certain amount of blueprints but we don’t have the lot and it’s going to take a lot of investigation to find out what to do and manufacture parts from scratch. But it will take a few years and will require a lot of money to do it.”

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In 1987, Lothian Regional Transport (now Lothian Buses) took ownership of the tram to begin restoring the piece of transport history to its former glory. But policy changes in the organisation’s workshop meant the 119-year-old tram was once again needing a new home and last year she was acquired by the 226 TrustIn 1987, Lothian Regional Transport (now Lothian Buses) took ownership of the tram to begin restoring the piece of transport history to its former glory. But policy changes in the organisation’s workshop meant the 119-year-old tram was once again needing a new home and last year she was acquired by the 226 Trust
In 1987, Lothian Regional Transport (now Lothian Buses) took ownership of the tram to begin restoring the piece of transport history to its former glory. But policy changes in the organisation’s workshop meant the 119-year-old tram was once again needing a new home and last year she was acquired by the 226 Trust

Passion for trams

The rail enthusiast said that the original tram network ignited his lifelong passion for trams. Moving to Edinburgh in 1950 from Falkirk aged nine, Lindsay said he ‘could get a good run around the city’ for little expense. He said: “In those days there was a penny fare for children on trams for anywhere within the city boundaries. I used to go out with a sixpence in my pocket and I’d see how far I could travel. Tollcross was a hub of trams – I would hop on a tram there and go to Newhaven, get a tram from there to Liberton, from there to Corstorphine.”

Remembering the disbandment of the tram network between 1953 and 1956 Lindsay described it as ‘having my early childhood wretched away from me’ and recalled the feelings held by many. He said: “It was controversial, there were huge debates in the City Chambers and a lot of the public did not want to lose their tram – it was a huge, fast system that worked and had 26 miles of track.

“Cost did come into it a lot in those days; diesel was cheap at the time, you could buy three buses for the price of one tram and buses were flexible. It required an act of parliament to extend tracks but with buses you could run within the constraints of the transport commissioners. The buses that replaced them were known by a councillor as ‘monstrous masses of shivering tin’ in comparison to the lovely, gliding trams that we had.”

In 1956 Edinburgh's trams were taken out of service to make way for buses. It would be 58 years before they returned to the capital.In 1956 Edinburgh's trams were taken out of service to make way for buses. It would be 58 years before they returned to the capital.
In 1956 Edinburgh's trams were taken out of service to make way for buses. It would be 58 years before they returned to the capital.

Full circle

Contemplating today’s milestone event Lindsay said: “I’m delighted to see them back. It’s quite marvellous to be able to travel on a tram today from the centre of town right down to Newhaven and I hope to live to see it extend round to Granton, Roseburn and back round in a circle like that.

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“If you look at the extension to the trams, railways and buses – that’s how cities grew and it should be brought to the public’s attention. The railways enabled people to travel all over Britain and my feeling is, along with many others, is we should have a proper transport heritage museum in Edinburgh.”

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