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Modifying the Tramway
1900 to 1912

East London's tram service began in January 1900 with just three cars but it was quickly realised that this was not enough. Three more were ordered in June that year and another three in 1903. The Council also planned more routes.

One of the most appealing was to take the line to the top of Oxford Street and from there through the commonage in an easterly direction to create a circular drive. This would have the advantage of increasing the value of land along the route, while spurring the growth of the town.

Another was to take a junction to the bottom of the unformed Currie Street and then create an Esplanade to Limekiln Kloof -- today the foot of Moore Street. Townsmen from North End also pressured the Council to take a line through their suburb.

Only the Beach extension was approved, and the route opened in December 1904. This service proved popular, with over 10 000 passengers that holiday season.

The route down "The Hill" at Inverleith Terrace was discontinued for a couple of years as it was too steep. Indeed, the occasional tramcar lost control and landed on the rocks below. It was only re-opened in 1906 after the track had been sufficiently altered to increase safety.

After 1903, however, the tramway became a headache. The new cars from the United States were found to be inferior to the first six built in England. The original cars, on the other hand, were beginning to show signs of wear.

Repairs could not be done without an even larger fleet, and so six more cars were ordered from England. There were now fifteen. But the track itself was showing signs of wear and the wires weren't properly insulated. Indeed, a pedestrian leaned against a pole and was electrocuted.

The cars had become both uncomfortable and dangerous, and fares were believed to be excessive. The result was passenger resistance as people chose rather to walk. Revenue began to tumble.

By 1906 the tramway was running at a heavy loss, averaging over £8,300 per annum. The Council tried to reduce the number of cars during the off-peak periods while increasing the speed so as to promote efficiency but the bad state of repair resulted in accidents as trams ran into each other.

By 1913, the tramway overdraft had reached a staggering £52,535. The Council had no other choice but to re-lay virtually the entire track and duplicate it on the main routes. Work began early in 1910.

The effect was immediate. The route again became smooth and the tramcars ran more comfortably. There was a 40% rise in the number of passengers and so, by 1912, revenue exceeded expenditure for the first time in the tramway's history.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009

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