Trams, also known as tramcars, streetcars or trolley cars, were once the main form of transport on urban roads, limited only by the lines they ran on. Originally horse-drawn (horsecars) and later electrified, these environmentally friendly vehicles with characteristic bell were attractive additions to the street scene.
Used for both passenger and industrial purposes, and sometimes adapted to light rail and rapid transit systems, trams served as the backbone of urban transportation before the days of buses or private car ownership. But when the bus did finally arrive, its greater flexibility and no need for rails rendered many streetcar lines obsolete. Even so, the tram’s indelible mark is all around us, as these abandoned trolleys and tramways attest to.
History – Swansea and Mumbles Railway, Wales, UK
The very first tram served on the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, opened in 1807. Originally built to move limestone from the quarries of Mumbles to Swansea, the line carried the world’s first fare-paying passengers on the day that Britain outlawed the transportation of slaves from Africa. The railway – which was actually a tramway, closed in 1960, but a few rusting remnants can still be seen.
New York and Harlem Railroad, United States
The first purpose-built streetcars came from the United States, and ran on the New York and Harlem Railroad’s Fourth Avenue Line, opened in 1832 and possibly the world’s oldest street railway. Sections of the original line, less tracks, are still visible today, while the Murray Hill Tunnel, which once carried streetcars beneath Park Avenue, has been adapted for cars.
Abandoned Trolleys in Red Hook, Brooklyn
(Images: Urban Ghosts)
Also in New York City, this time the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, is another redundant section of streetcar line complete with abandoned trolleys. The decaying contraptions have become local landmarks in this artistic area, where urban decay and rebirth exist side by side. Discover more about these abandoned trolleys here, and don’t miss the Brooklyn City Streetcar Company‘s vision for the future.
Washington and Great Falls Electric Railroad, Washington, DC
These historic streetcar tracks are well known in Georgetown, though the name Washington and Great Falls Electric Railroad has been largely forgotten. The abandoned trolley route is not hard to trace, with several dilapidated trestles and overgrown track bed extending through The Palisades neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. John Fuller recently published these photos showing the demise of Georgetown’s previously hidden streetcar lines, but thankfully these weren’t the beloved cobblestone tracks above.
Abandoned Rozelle Tram Depot in Sydney, Australia
Urban Explorers documented these neglected trams at the abandoned Rozelle tram depot, the largest remaining depot of its kind in Sydney. When it opened in 1904, the depot provided work for 650 residents of Sydney’s Glebe suburb before closing in 1958. The abandoned building’s future, with six historic trams dating to the 1930s, is currently undetermined. Prior to 2000 the trams were reportedly in mint condition, but have been heavily vandalised. Two Facebook groups (here and here) are working to save the depot. (Urban Ghosts also recently featured the Waiorongomai Valley Tramway in New Zealand.)
Abandoned Trams in Europe
Many cities in Continental Europe still operate trams and trolleys. Their lines are ubiquitous, from major city centres to quiet suburbs. Compared to other countries that witnessed the demise of trolley cars decades ago, the characteristic clank of metal on metal as they rattle along the track gives creates an altogether older feel. These abandoned trams in Amsterdam reflect the way – like all vehicles – trams wear out despite the lines still being operational.
Abandoned Trams and Tramways in the United Kingdom
More than half a century ago, the Kingsway Tramway Subway in London carried streetcars beneath the Strand. Built in 1906 and reportedly inspired by New York’s Murray Hill Tunnel, the subway linked the tram networks of north and south London and contained two stations (still visible today) – Holborn and Aldwych, the latter connecting to the abandoned Aldwych tube station. The Kingsway tunnel closed in 1952 and has since featured an urban art installation called Chord.
These historic photos of neglected trams in Leeds and Glasgow reflect the end of an era. Hundreds of trams were scrapped in cities across the UK during the 1960s due to the advent of buses, which didn’t rely on rails to reach their destinations. Blackpool in Lancashire is one of the few places still operating trams, although fans can get a taste of this historic mode of transportation at museums like Crich and Beamish.
Urban explorer Phill.d documented the Ridge Lane tramway tunnel which was abandoned around 1916. We’re used to seeing trams operate on city streets – or even below them – but they were also used for industrial purposes. The Ridge Lane tunnel connected trams with the old Grinkle iron mine and though the rails have gone, the wooden sleepers remain in place. (Explore more of Phill’s work here.)
Miscellaneous Abandoned Trolleys, Streetcars and Tramways
Trams may largely be gone but they’re certainly not forgotten. Their legacy is written across the urban street scene, all too often in a state of decay. Some cities, however, like Sheffield in the UK, have reintroduced modern trams on their streets. Occasionally, older trams are refurbished, such as those above which are being readied for service in Philadelphia – thanks to reader Matt Repino for this information.
Usually, however, it’s the sight of its former tracks set within cobblestone streets or running along overgrown rights-of-way that remind us of the tram’s presence. In many cases, streetcar lines still exist beneath the new tarmac of modern urban streets, revealing themselves occasionally when road maintenance is undertaken. To many, their presence is a reminder of the past, or a beloved yet faded part of the present.
Keep reading – why not explore the forgotten trams of Sydney, Australia, in more depth, or check out Davide Bonanni’s “O” – an innovative way of exploring abandoned railways.