Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Last Tram Line

In the dead of night on a May evening in 1958, few of the residents of Constitution Street would have heard the rumble of the entire fleet of Aberdeen’s trams, destined for their funeral pyre on what was left of the old Sea Beach line.  Those that did rouse themselves and attend the almost arcane end to what had once been the city’s main form of public transport would have seen the first twenty cars bump along the track and draw up in two rows before being doused in paraffin and set alight.  All that remains of that sad day for tram enthusiasts are the forlorn steel rails which can be found on the Links near the Beach Boulevard.  Wander along there today and you might notice the churned up tarmac — could it contain charred fragments of those wonderful trams?

Aberdeen’s very first horse-drawn tram appeared in August 1874, two years after the Aberdeen District Tramway Company was set up by local businessmen.  The first routes ran from King Street to Queen’s Cross depot and St. Nicholas Street to Kittybrewster Central Park, later the site of the Astoria cinema.  When ‘horse fuel’ got more expensive, the need for electric trams, first proposed in 1896, prompted the council to make a public takeover of the tram company and fund the installation of the necessary equipment for the princely sum of £103,785.  The private enterprise had already carried over 60 million passengers in the 24 years of its existence.

The Corporation Tramways increased the routes, added more cars, and started operating on Sundays – a popular decision with the citizens!  Sadly the glory days of the trams were already over by the 1920s when motor buses were seen as the economic alternative which could more easily serve the city’s transport needs.

In 1958 the council finally decided trams were ‘at the back o’ a day’ and sold the lot for scrap to Bird’s of Stratford-upon-Avon.  After an earlier gala procession, the trams’ very last journey was a greater spectacle to behold.  Like the Viking galley of Shetland’s Up-Helly-Aa, the entire rolling stock blazed up into the spring night, leaving a mangled heap of blackened metal in the cold light of the following day.

The tram lines are all that remain.  Stand there sometime; maybe you will hear those wheels rumbling on their ghostly way down the track as they did 54 years ago.


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