There have been tramways in Britain for 150 years, but it is a story of rise, decline and slow renaissance. Trams have come and gone, been loved and hated, popular and derided, considered both old fashioned and futuristic. Horse trams, introduced in the 1860s, were the first cheap form of public transport on city streets.
Electric systems were developed in nearly every urban area from the 1890s and revolutionised town travel in the Edwardian era. A century ago, trams were at their peak, used by everyone all over the country and a mark of civic pride in towns and cities from Dover to Dublin. But by the 1930s tramways were in decline and giving way to cheaper and more flexible motor buses and trolleybuses.
By the 1950s the major systems were being replaced. London's last tram ran in 1952 and Glasgow, the city most firmly linked with trams, closed its system in 1962. Only Blackpool, famous for its decorated cars, kept a public service running, and trams seemed destined only for preservation in museums.
A slow renaissance began in the 1980s, when new systems were introduced as modern 'light rail' networks, starting with the Tyne & Wear Metro (1980) and London's DLR (1987).The latest city to reintroduce trams will be Edinburgh in 2014. Trams are now set to be a familiar and significant feature of urban life once again.
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