Blackpool Trams

A description of the Blackpool tramway, written in 1890 for the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works in New South Wales, Australia. The committee was considering a proposed tramway for use in Sydney, and looked at some of the tramways in use, in various countries.

Blackpool Electric Tramway Company’s Installation at Blackpool.


Electricity generated at a central station and brought to the cars by an underground conductor lying centrally between the tram rails; these rails form the return circuit. Cars worked in parallel.

Date opened 1885.
The Electric Tramway Company built and own the whole of the system. Michael Holroyd Smith, Engineer.

Two miles of single line, with eleven passing places; no severe curves.
The rails are set to standard gauge (4 feet 8½ inches). Centrally between them lies a conduit presenting a slot ½ an inch wide at the surface of the road; this slot is wider at the bottom than at the top to prevent stones jamming. About every 100 yards sump-holes and drains are provided in order to keep the conduit dry. In the conduit, on either side, two C-shaped hard-drawn copper bars are carried by porcelain insulators attached to blocks of wood, forming part of the sides of the conduit; these two conductors are electrically joined together about every 100 yards, and form the "lead" from the dynamo to the cars. These conductors are joined by brass wedges or cotters, and above the joints hand-holes are placed; these holes are made large enough to get the "collector" out if necessary, and have iron covers.

Area of each conductor, 0.575 inches; resistance, 0.165 ohms per mile; weight, about l lb. per foot; length, 36 feet. At facing points the bifurcation of the conduit slot is further back than the tongue of the tram-rail switch, and no difficulty is experienced in getting the "collector" to follow the right slot. As a further precaution, a light spring is inserted at the bifurcation, so as to aid in giving the collector a proper bias. The tram-rails are connected together by copper straps so as to form a continuous return wire.

Under each car runs a collector formed of two brass springs sliding along each of the conductors in the conduit, thus picking up the current. Each collector has stout bars or "ploughs" in front and behind; these keep the slot free from small obstructions, but should a serious one be met, both the mechanical and electrical connections between the collector and the car are "slipped" at suitable couplings, and so no damage is done to either.

Cars, ten, as follows:
2 seating 31, weighing about 1 ton 15 cwt. empty and without electrical fittings.
2 seating 36.
2 seating 48, weighing about 3 tons 5 cwt. empty and without electrical fittings.

For motor, add 8 cwt. per car.
For gearing add 2 cwt. per ear.
The cars run on four wheels, on a fixed wheel base.

Elwell-Parker, series wound, running at 800 revolutions per minute at a car speed of 8 miles an hour.  There is only one pair of brushes constantly on (Holroyd Smith's patent), and they do not require moving for either forward or backward running. The motor is attached to the wooden under-framing of the car, which has been strengthened by angle irons.

At one end of the armature spindle a small pinion is placed, which gears with an internally geared wheel on a countershaft; this countershaft is connected by a chain with one of the car axles, and is carried on an elbow bolted on to the motor frame. By twisting this elbow piece the chain is tightened, but the gear wheels always remain in gear. Ratio of gear 9 to 1.

Switches etc.:
At each end of the car is a switch for turning the current on. This is done gradually by allowing the current to first pass through an iron wire resistance, under the floor of the car (4 ohms). As the switch is moved, this is gradually reduced until it is all cut out. A plug switch is placed at each end of the car for reversing the motion of the motor; only the current in the armature is reversed, that in the field magnets always running the same way. Only one handle and set of plugs are provided to work the switches, so that the driver has to take them from end to end accordingly, as the car runs forward or backward.

Generating Station:
Everything is in duplicate.

Marshall’s semi-portable 25 horsepower compound non-condensing, 16 inch and 10 inch cylinders. Running at 120 revolutions per minute. Countershaft driven by leather rope gearing from either engine. The shaft has couplings so arranged that either engine can drive either dynamo.

Locomotive type, working at 120 lb. pressure per square inch. Engine speed, 120 revolutions; Dynamo speed, 500 revolutions per minute. Dynamos, Elwell-Parker four-pole shunt wound, but instead of working as shunt machines they are separately excited by small shunt wound exciting dynamos, running at 900 revolutions per minute.

A switch containing resistances is inserted in the armature circuit of the "exciters" and the amount of the resistance (varying from 0 to 21 ohms) can be altered, thus varying the strength of the field magnets of the large dynamos and so graduating the main current to the number of cars running, state of weather, etc.

Maximum output, 180 amperes at 300 volts = 54,000 watts. If necessary, the two dynamos could be connected up in parallel. The generating station is placed about the centre of the line. Voltmeters and ammeters are provided. A magnetic cut-out protects the dynamo in case of a short circuit on the line.

Efficiency of System:
From actual tests taken by the engineer, the total efficiency, that is, the ratio between the work done in moving the cars on the line and the indicated horsepower of the engine equals 45 percent.

The following have been taken out by Mr. Holroyd Smith, relative to electric traction:

1883 - 1014 Apparatus for working cars.
1883 -  5065 Transmitting energy.
1884 - 9163 Transmitting and collecting energy.
1885 - 12230 Collectors.
1885 - 1701 Dynamos.
1885 - 5627 Collectors.
1886 - 5664 Motors and gearing.
1886 -  6220 Resistance switches.
1886 - 17018 Transmitting apparatus.
1887 -11004 Apparatus for working cars.
1881 - 5196 Conductors.
1881 - 5911 Subway train motors.
1881 - 11963 Improvements in the system.
1881 - 12514 Subway carriages.

General Remarks
The line runs along the Parade, and is exposed to the sea. In stormy weather it is sometimes covered with water. The line cannot then be worked electrically owing to short-circuiting. In dry weather sand is blown on to the conductor, gearing, etc., causing wear and tear. The conditions at Blackpool for electrical working are therefore far from favourable.     

The whole of the details have been thoroughly well worked out. There is not much noise from the motor and gearing, and the smooth way in which the cars start is most noticeable. Any cars can be easily adapted to this system. The number of passengers carried is very large in the summer months, Blackpool being a favourite pleasure resort. The company is prosperous; only £6.10s. per £10 share has been called up, and for the year ending October 31st, 1889, 7 percent dividend was paid, and £1,350 placed to the "Depreciation and Reserve Fund," now amounting to over £3,500.


The following figures are taken from the report for the year ending October 31st, 1889:

Items Total Cost Cost per car
Tram shed £2,358 £236
Generating plant and motors £3,186 £319
Centre channel and electrical fittings £8,355 £835
Cars (10), turntable, etc. £1,785 £179
Miscellaneous £641 £64
Engineering and patent rights £2,541 £254
Preliminary expenses (law etc.)  £1,591 £159


£20,457 £2,046

The above figures include the roadway, building, and all expenses incidental to making the line. Being the first tramway of its kind, it naturally was more costly than what another such line would be.

The following figures are taken from the report for the year ending October 31st, 1889 :

All expenses (revenue account), not including depreciation or interest on capital. Total cost £3,621. Cost per car mile about 9.25d. Car mileage, about 94,000. Depreciation is covered by a reserve fund, which now amounts to about one-sixth of the paid-up capital. The above figures include all expenses incidental to working the line.


Description of the Installation

The Blackpool system is described as electricity generated at a central station, and conveyed to the cars by the medium of an underground conductor lying centrally between the tram rails. The rails form the return circuit. The cars are worked in parallel.

The Blackpool line is nearly 2 miles in length. It is a single track, with ten pass-byes and one length of double line. The engine house and car sheds are placed near the centre; this position was selected as being the most convenient, and offering considerable advantages from an electrical point of view, compared with a generating station at one end.

The roadway runs along the sea coast and is exposed to the full force of the wind and tide from the Irish Sea. So strong are the periodical storms that, though the road level is well above ordinary high water mark, the waves dash over in such volumes that the road is flooded.

The difficulties in applying electricity underground in such a situation are therefore unusually great. When the tide is over the line, the current, of course makes earth. At one time it was intended to employ accumulators for haulage during the flooding, and horses were occasionally used; but owing to the amount of shingle brought over, the grooves in the rail were filled, and the cars kept running off. Working during the floodings has therefore been abandoned. These circumstances pointed to the necessity of allowing any dirt or shingle that might enter the slit in the surface of the centre channel to fall through freely to the bottom, and also of providing for its easy removal. The sump holes and traps for this purpose are placed at frequent intervals, and have direct drains connecting them with the sea.

The chairs are of cast-iron, 11 inches high with a 12½ inch base, and an internal width of 5½ inches; the bottom H rounded, and the ends have pockets for holding the side boards. These chairs are placed every yard, and support the steel troughing which is bolted to their surface; the nuts are covered and locked by a cast-iron cap.

The rest of the troughing is filled with wooden blocks. The sides of the troughs are inclined, so that when fixed, the space between them is ½ inch at the top, and 1 inch at the bottom, the object being that any stone having once passed the surface may easily fall through, instead of getting hopelessly jammed. Creosoted wood is used for the sides, with a view to adding to the insulation. The wood sides have a 2½ inch hole bored midway between the chairs, for the reception of the porcelain insulator; and ¾ inch holes are bored at right angles for the insertion of a wooden peg, which, passing through the groove in the insulator, locks it fast. This method has added greatly to the facility of construction. The roadway under the side-pieces is packed; the centre is concreted, and tooled to form the same curvature as the bottom of the chair.

The conductors are made of hard drawn copper, having a conductivity of 96 percent of pure copper. They are in lengths of 36 feet, and weigh almost exactly 1 lb. per foot.

A cross section of the conduit.

The tubes are connected one with the other by wedges made of drawn brass, exactly fitting the inside of the tube. Space is left between the ends to allow for expansion and contraction, and the wedges are secured from shifting by a wrapping of wire. The two tubes are electrically connected at every hundred yards by U-shaped loops of insulated and lead sheathed copper wire, placed in a groove that is cut in the sides and bottom of the channel. Over each of these loops is placed a hand hole, which is made by cutting both of the steel troughs and filling the place with two pieces of yard length, which are protected by suitable side plates. These hand holds are needful for many purposes, especially for the insertion of the scrapers used for cleaning the channels, and for the removal of collectors, should they become damaged or require adjustment. Only the positive electricity passes along the copper conductors. The return circuit is made by means of the rails; and to ensure its being electrically good, each rail is connected by a strip of copper passing from rail to rail, and plugged into holes punched in the ends.

Dealing with the points necessitated by the numerous pass-byes was a matter of no small difficulty, for in tramways it is desirable that the rail-points forming the turn-outs should be as fine as possible, so as to avoid strains and joltings of the car. In order to prevent the collector from fouling when taking the points, the ends of the secondary tubes are fitted with brass horns. Although the lay of the channel points is such that the collector has no tendency to take the wrong way, yet, for further security against such a mishap, a steel spring is placed at the toe, which guides the collector to the proper side in taking the points, and opens freely for allowing it to pass when leaving.

The collector consists of three main parts, namely, one centre-piece, and two clearing ploughs for enabling it to run in either direction. One of the elements of success in working electric tramways with conductors underground is the employment of a flexible conductor, flexibly connected. For this purpose the two ploughs are joined to the centre-piece, either by a tempered steel strip, or by a hinged wrought-iron plate. The tempered steel plates forming the ploughs are held by cast-iron cheeks, and being placed at a proper angle extend downwards a little past the bottom of the steel troughs; their upper ends terminate in a prong or finger, curved slightly backwards. The fingers receive the loop or ring of the hauling ropes, which are attached to the front and rear of the car. The ropes are strong enough to stand considerable strain, and their ends are fitted either with a releasing clip, or with a short loop of weaker cord, which is strong enough to bear the stress due to any ordinary obstruction; but should an absolute block occur, then the small loop breaks; or the slip lets go, and the collector is left behind, while the car travels forward.

At the same time the ring of the trailing rope slips off the finger of the rear plough; if this were not so, the force required to break the loop of the trailing rope would make the collector kick up, and would cause the contact-making part of the centre-piece to short circuit with the underside of the steel troughing. The centre piece consists of a cast-iron cheek, holding a plate of strong brass, which is thoroughly insulated and protected by hardened steel guards where it passes through the troughing. The bottom of the insulated plate is bared of insulating material, and has attached to it either a short plate of brass, or two brass wires forming a T, and holding at each end hard metal wings specially prepared. The forward wing is bent so as to press against the left-hand conductor-tube, end the rear one is bent so as to press against the right-hand tube. To the upper end of the insulated plate is fixed a clip, surrounded by an india-rubber ring. The clip is bored to receive a heart-shaped terminal, which can be easily pushed into it, but requires a fair snatch to withdraw it. A similar clip is fixed to the receiving wire under the car, end a short length of curled insulated wire, with a heart-shaped terminal at each end, makes a ready connection between the collector and the car.

The track and conduit.

The cars are of various designs. The smallest are light, open summer cars, seating thirty passengers. The largest are provided with transverse seats on the roofs, and carry fifty-six passengers. The levers of the ordinary chain break are placed outside the wheels, so as to leave a clear space under the centre of the car for the motor and the gearing. The mechanical construction of the motor was specially designed for allowing it to be fixed in position. The bearings are held in a circular frame, large enough for allowing the armature to be passed through it.

The motors are series-wound, and of such proportions that they yield a high efficiency, running in either direction, without giving any lead to the brushes. Reversal is effected by changing the internal coupling, that is to say, while the current through the field is always in one direction, the current through the armature can be reversed, thus changing the relative polarity and consequent direction of motion. Each brush consists of a thin steel plate, insulated from the studs and free to work on them. The steel plates are divided into fingers, which carry little blocks made of a special metal, and capable of being easily renewed. The blocks are made to press against the commutator by small bands of india-rubber stretching from tip to tip of the fingers. The pressure of the brushes is thereby regulated and equalised, and the vibration and jolting are compensated.

With regard to the gearing, it may be explained that to the circular frame of the motor is bolted the base of an elbow bracket, which carries the invert wheel-gearing into a gun-metal pinion on the end of the armature spindle. The box holding the invert wheel has upon its back a chain pinion, from which the power is taken to the large wheel keyed upon the axle of the car. The elbow bracket can be turned upon its base, so as to either slacken or tighten the chain at pleasure, without moving the motor or disarranging the centres of the armature pinion and invert wheel. But for the inevitable stretching of the chain, and the noise when new, this gear would be all that could be desired.

The wiring of the cars is carried out as follows: In order to control the quantity of current, and the consequent speed resistance, coils are placed in certain positions, and are coupled with the switch-boxes under the car steps. A removable handle is used for driving, end a plug fly-switch for reversal; these are in charge of the driver, and when the car has completed its run in one direction, he carries them to the other end of the car; this plan prevents any accidental derangement, as it is impossible for the switches to be worked without them.

Medium sized car, seating 48 passengers.

As the cars have to work all day, the engines and dynamos are in duplicate, each being capable of doing the full ordinary work, while in case of need both can be used at once. The engines are 25 nominal horsepower, compound none condensing, of the semi-portable type, with locomotive boilers. A second motion-shaft is employed, in order that either or both of the engines may drive either or both of the machines. The dynamos are placed on a higher level than the engines, which enables the wheels controlling the friction couplings to be placed in a position where they can be worked conveniently by the engineman.

Power station.

The generators are four pole shunt wound dynamos; but, instead of allowing any current from their own armatures to pass round the field magnets, these are separately excited by the little machines. As the electro-motive force of the external circuit varies directly with the intensity of the field, it can be regulated to a nicety by varying the resistance in the circuit of the exciter. This resistance is, by preference, placed in the armature circuit of the exciter. The maximum electro-motive force of the generators is 300 volts; and each will yield 180 amperes. They can, when required, be run in parallel. The total length of No. 17 wire (0.06 inch thick) on the magnets of each generator is about 14 miles.

Measures were taken of the insulation of the line during construction, and 150 yards length was found to give 4,490 ohms. The average working loss through leakage may be taken at 25 amperes, which at an electro-motive force of 220 volts is equal to 7.2 horsepower.

As the efficiency of the generators is about 90 percent, and of the motors about 80 percent, much further economy must be looked for in them, though it should be possible for the loss of the generator to be not more than 5 percent, and in the motor 10 percent. The chief part in which to look for further economy is the line itself; and in this, the first point is more perfect insulation, and, consequently, less loss in leakage; and the next is, more perfect continuity in the conductors, and therefore less loss through resistance.

From the minutes of evidence prepared for the Australian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, for New South Wales.

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