Trolleybuses in London

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London trolleybus system
London trolleybus.JPG
A preserved London trolleybus at Sandtoft
Locale London, England
Open 16 May 1931 (1931-05-16)
Close 8 May 1962 (1962-05-08)
Status Closed
Routes 68
Operator(s) London United Tramways
London Passenger Transport Board
London Transport Executive
Stock 1,811 (maximum)

Trolleybuses served the London Passenger Transport Area for just over 30 years in the mid twentieth century. For much of its life, the London system was the largest in the world. It had 68 routes, and a maximum fleet of 1811 trolleybuses.[1][2]


The first 60 trolleybuses were operated by London United Tramways (LUT), from a depot at Fulwell in south-west London. They were nicknamed "Diddlers" and first ran on 16 May 1931 (1931-05-16).[1][3]

In 1933 LUT was absorbed into the London Passenger Transport Board along with other tram operators. The LPTB decided to replace all trams with trolleybuses. This was started in October 1935 with two more former LUT routes, and continued in stages until June 1940, when it was suspended because of the war. By then nearly all the trams north of the Thames had been replaced, but there were still 1100 trams in use in south London.[4] In 1946 it was decided that the remaining trams would be replaced by diesel buses. Trolleybuses were bigger than diesel buses (70 seats compared to 56), and so more diesel buses would be required. It was thought, however, that there would be fewer uncollected fares on the smaller vehicles.

In 1948 a new batch of 77 trolleybuses replaced the Diddlers and trolleybuses that had been destroyed by enemy action. A further 50 new trolleybuses were delivered in 1952 to replace the oldest vehicles, which were then 16 years old.

In 1954, it was announced that all trolleybuses were to be replaced with the exception of the post-war vehicles, which would be retained until about 1970 and run over the original LUT routes. Conversion began in 1959, using RT buses for the first three stages and new Routemasters for the remainder.[5]

A consortium of Spanish operators bought the post-war vehicles. The former LUT routes were the last to be converted to diesel buses, on 8 May 1962 (1962-05-08).[1][2][3]


The trolleybuses were designed and built specifically to be worthy tram replacements. Like the trams, they were large high-capacity double deckers, with rapid acceleration. They had three axles (necessary as 30 feet long), and were much quieter in operation than contemporary trams or diesel buses.[6]

Apart from the Diddlers and a few experimental vehicles, most London trolleybuses were near-identical. There was an exception: in 1941 and 1943 London Transport acquired 43 trolleybuses that had been ordered for South Africa but could not be shipped there because of the war. These vehicles were allocated to Ilford depot.

One experimental vehicle was proposed to be the forerunner of a fleet that would use the Kingsway tram subway, but the change of policy after the war meant that this was never carried out.

Some trolleybuses are now preserved in the United Kingdom and abroad.[7]

One of the 1948 vehicles has also been brought back from Spain.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Murray, Alan (2000). World Trolleybus Encyclopaedia, p. 73. Yateley, Hampshire, UK: Trolleybooks. ISBN 0-904235-18-1.
  2. ^ a b Short, Peter. "Former UK systems". British Trolleybus Society. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Joyce, J.; King, J. S.; and Newman, A. G. (1986). British Trolleybus Systems, pp. 84–95, 159. London: Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 0-7110-1647-X.
  4. ^ London Trolleybus Routes, Hugh Taylor, Capital Transport, 1994
  5. ^ Farewell to London's Trolleybuses, Michael H C Baker. Ian Allan Publishing, 1994
  6. ^ "Trolleybus (1981/528)". London Transport Museum website. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  7. ^ Zebedee, John (30 November 2010). "A List of Preserved Trolleybuses in the UK". British Trolleybus Society. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Blacker, Ken (2002). The London Trolleybus. Volume 1: 1931–1945. Harrow: Capital Transport. ISBN 978-1-85414-260-3. 
  • Blacker, Ken (2004). The London Trolleybus. Volume 2: 1946–1962. Harrow: Capital Transport. ISBN 978-1-85414-285-6. 
  • Taylor, Hugh (2006). London Trolleybuses - A Class Album. Harrow: Capital Transport. ISBN 978-1-85414-302-0. 
  • Webber, Mick (1997). London Trolleybus Chronology 1931-1962. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-2528-2. 
  • Webber, Mick (2009). London Trolleybuses - a black and white album. Harrow: Capital Transport. ISBN 978-1-85414-333-4. 
  • Wyatt, Charlie (2008). Beneath the Wires of London. Harrow: Capital Transport. ISBN 978-1-85414-325-9. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Trolleybuses in London at Wikimedia Commons