Edinburgh Corporation Tramways

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This article is about trams in Edinburgh from 1871–1956. For new trams from 2014 onwards, see Edinburgh Trams.
Edinburgh Corporation Tramways
Locale Edinburgh
Open 1 July 1919
Close 16 November 1956
Status Closed
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Propulsion system(s) Electric
Depot(s) Henderson Row, Tollcross, Westfield, Shrubhill, Leith Walk
Route length 47.25 miles (76.04 km)

Edinburgh Corporation Tramways formerly served the City of Edinburgh, Scotland. The city used four-wheeled double-decked trams painted dark red (madder) and white – a livery still used by Lothian Buses and the post-2014 Edinburgh Trams.


Remnant of the old cable-hauled tramway remain on Waterloo Place at the East End of Princes Street
Tram cable pulley unit at the Henderson Row depot in Stockbridge (now an insurance company office)

The first trams in Edinburgh were horse-drawn and operated by the Edinburgh Street Tramways Company. This replaced an earlier horse-drawn coach system. The inaugural service (Haymarket to Bernard Street) ran on 6 November 1871. The tracks were laid by Sir James Gowans with John Macrae as engineer. These lines complemented and partly replaced the pre-existing horse-drawn carriage from Edinburgh to Leith, the only essential difference being the addition of guide rails. In January 1888 the Edinburgh Northern Tramways started the first cable-hauled trams. This had its depot and drive-mechanism on Henderson Row, a building partially preserved in the Scottish Life Assurance offices there. Part of the winding gear is preserved on the pavement to the east side of the office. The cable system only operated in certain central areas. In 1894 the Edinburgh Street Tramway lines in Edinburgh (but not Leith or Portobello) were taken over by the Edinburgh and District Tramways Company. On 1 July 1919 Edinburgh Corporation took over the operation of the city's tramways.[1]

Leith Corporation took over the still horse-drawn Leith tramlines in 1904 and introduced electric traction in 1905 (the first electric system in Scotland). Edinburgh Corporation took over the Leith system in 1920 (see below).


Until 1920 Leith was a separate burgh, with its own municipal tram system. The Leith system was electrified, whereas the Edinburgh system used cable haulage (as still used by the San Francisco cable car system and the Great Orme Tramway in Wales). The cable was housed in a shallow trough between the tram rails; breakages could reduce the entire system to a standstill. The main depot was moved to Shrubhill on Leith Walk. An underground chamber at the main turn into the garages here was permanently manned during operating hours to try to reduce cable-snagging.

Passengers going from Edinburgh to Leith had to change trams (from cable-drawn to electric) at Pilrig on Leith Walk at the boundary between Leith and Edinburgh.[2] This confused exchange of passengers was known locally as "the Pilrig muddle", and lasted until the electrification of the Edinburgh system.

In 1922 Edinburgh Corporation decided to convert the entire system to electric traction. This took around three years to implement. The last cable tram operated in June 1923.[2] A short section of original tram rail and cable track can still be seen in Waterloo Place.[3]

Musselburgh also had its own electrified tram system from 1906. Passengers had to change to the cable-hauled Edinburgh trams at Joppa until 1923. The Musselburgh system was subsequently incorporated into the Edinburgh system, with the tramway to Port Seton closing east of Levenhall in 1928. Musselburgh continued to be served by Edinburgh trams until 1954.[4]


The system continued to expand during the 1930s. New routes included Gorgie to Stenhouse (1930), Braids to Fairmilehead (1936) and North Gyle to Maybury (1937). Further extensions were curtailed due to the outbreak of World War II.[2]


An Edinburgh tram in 1947.
The Shrubhill Depot, Leith Walk.

Edinburgh Corporation introduced its first motor bus in 1914. In 1928, given the increasing importance of buses, the Edinburgh Corporation Tramways Department was renamed the Edinburgh Corporation Transport Department.[1]

Following World War II, all municipal tramways in the United Kingdom (with the sole exception of the Blackpool tramway) were progressively closed and replaced by diesel buses.

Initially, Edinburgh Corporation took advantage of the closure of other systems to buy displaced, modern, secondhand trams – notably from Manchester. Nevertheless, a programme of replacement of trams by buses was introduced in the early 1950s. Edinburgh's last tram operated on 16 November 1956, terminating at the Shrubhill Depot on Leith Walk (archive film footage exists of the event). As a curious feature at Shrubhill an underground chamber exists where the cable did an abrupt turn into the garage. This chamber held a man, who had the unenviable job of sitting inside, ensuring that the cable did not snag.

One tramcar has been preserved – number 35, built in 1948 – which was put on display in a small museum at the Shrubhill Depot for a number of years. The museum eventually closed in the 1980s due to a leaking roof.[5] Tram number 35 operated briefly at the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 and on the Blackpool tramway, before going into retirement at the National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire where it remains on display today.[6]

The main reason for the move to buses was the inflexibility of the tram routes should problems occur (one accident could bring the whole system to a halt).

When buses replaced trams they followed the same routes previously taken by the trams and used the same route numbers. This led to some anomalies which still existed in 2010, such as the absence of buses on the Pleasance—a major city artery—which was too steep at its northern end for trams. Lothian Buses only started to serve the Pleasance in 2014 (route 60).

Tram Managers[edit]

The first Edinburgh Corporation Tram Manager was R Stuart Pilcher who was appointed at the early age of 24 in 1919 having previously worked in Aberdeen.[7] He left his post in 1929 to become Tram Manager in Manchester, England. He subsequently became Chairman of the Traffic Commissioners in the West Midlands of England.[8] In 1921 he was responsible for establishing a trade organisation which eventually became part of the Scottish Council of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT).[8]

Pilcher managed the electrification of Edinburgh's trams in 1922/3. At the luncheon held on 15 January 1929 to mark his departure from Edinburgh and in response to Lord Provost Sir Alexander Stevenson's remarks, he said that "they deliberately planned the changeover so as not to affect public opinion. They were nervous of the effect of the hoardings and a half-finished job."[9]

He was followed by FA Fitzpayne MIEE, who remained in post until 1934 when Robert McLeod M Inst T took over. He in turn was succeeded by William Morrison Little in 1949.

New line[edit]

Main article: Edinburgh Trams

A new tram line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place (in the city centre) opened on Saturday 31 May 2014.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Booth (1988), p. 64
  2. ^ a b c Booth (1988), p. 4
  3. ^ Booth (1988), p. 6
  4. ^ Booth (1988), p. 52
  5. ^ "Edinburgh Transport Preserved Tram No 35". EdinPhoto. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  6. ^ Roden, Alan (21 April 2006). "Edinburgh's last tram makes its way down south". The Scotsman. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  7. ^ "Edinburgh Transport Tram Maps". EdinPhoto. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  8. ^ a b "Confederation of Passenger Transport". CPT. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  9. ^ "Edinburgh Tramways. Mr Pilcher Entertained. Lord Provost's Tribute. page 14, 16th January 1929". The Scotsman. 


  • Booth, Gavin (1988). Edinburgh's Trams & Buses. Bus Enthusiast. ISBN 0-946265-09-7.