120 Years of Electric Transport in Cardiff

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I picked up this booklet at a postcard fair a few years ago as it looked quite interesting. I don’t have a particular interest in transport history but I found the story of “electric traction” in Cardiff fascinating.

May 2022 marks 120 years since the first electric tramcar was driven by the Mayor from the Town Hall over the Canton and Cathedral Road routes.

Cardiff Bus launched their electric bus fleet on 14th January 2022. A special “crimson lake and cream” livery celebrates the 120 year anniversary.

This postcard shows a tramcar on Queen Street in the 1930s. Explore more local postcards.

Tramcar on city street in the 1930s

The last tram ran between Whitchurch Road and St. Mary Street on 20th February 1950.

The Trolleybus Era

A trolleybus on a city street with a castle in the background.
1. Cardiff trolleybus 229 in 1966 © Copyright Alan Murray-Rust

This is Cardiff’s first trolleybus, no. 201 (incorrectly numbered 200). It’s painted in wartime grey and opened the 6A service between Wood Street and Clarence Road on 1st March 1942.

An old trolleybus pictured in 1942
2. Cardiff’s first trolleybus – cardiffbus.com

The final day of operation was on 11th January 1970. Trolleybuses 215, 262 and 277 ran pre-booked tours over the remaining system. Cardiff 262 was the last trolleybus to run and is owned by the Cardiff & South Wales Trolleybus Project.

The overhead wiring and traction poles were removed over the next six months. The final piece was taken down on 21 June 1970.

If you’d like to explore more, there’s an amazing collection of photos in the Cardiffians image archive.

A trolleybus on a city street with hotel and castle in the background.
3. At the Angel Hotel in 1970 © Copyright Alan Murray-Rust

There’s at least one remaining part of the network if you look closely. This is by the Turning Head car park next to Llandaff Fields.

An old rusty pole with electric cable and box

This map from the booklet shows the turning point at Llandaff Fields.

Map of tram and trolleybus routes

Timeline

This is the timeline published in “City of Cardiff – 68 Years of Electric Transport” by D. G. Bowen and J. Callow. I’ve added an update about the new electric buses that launched earlier this year.

  1. 2 May 1902 – The first service of electric tramcars commenced between City Road and the Docks (via Wood Street).
  2. 17 Oct 1902 – All services operated by electric cars
  3. Dec 1923 – First top covered tramcar placed in service.
  4. 5 Jan 1930 – Tramcars replaced by motorbuses on the Cathays route via Windsor Place and Crwys Road.
  5. 11 Oct 1936 – Tramcars replaced by motorbuses on the Roath Dock, Splott – Clive Street service.
  6. 1 Mar 1942 – Tramcars replaced by trolleybuses on the Grangetown service between Wood Street and Clarence Road.
  7. 8 Nov 1942 – Trolleybus service extended via Castle Street and Cathedral Road to Llandaff Fields.
  8. 28 Apr 1946 – Tramcars replaced by motorbuses on the Monument to Pier Head service via Bute Street.
  9. 17 Aug 1947 – Motorbuses replaced by trolleybuses on the Monument to Pier Head service, using seven second hand single-deck vehicles purchased from Pontypridd UDC.
  10. 25 Jan 1948 – Tramcars replaced by motorbuses on service 8 – Victoria Park and Capitol.
  11. 6 Jun 1948 – Tramcars replaced by motorbuses on service 5a and route revised to operate between Victoria Park and St. Mary Street. Tramcars replaced by motorbuses on service 8 – Victoria Park and Newport Road.
  12. 4 Jul 1948 – Motorbuses replaced by trolleybuses on service 8 – Victoria Park and Windsor Lane and service number altered to 5.
  13. 17 Oct 1948 – Tramcars replaced by motorbuses on service 2 – Newport Road and St. Mary Street.
  14. 3 Dec 1949 – Tramcars replaced by trolleybuses on service 4 – Roath park and St. Mary Street and service number altered to 3.
  15. 20 Feb 1950 – Tramcars replaced by trolleybuses on service 1 – Whitchurch Road and St. Mary Street. Operation of last electric tram in Cardiff.
  16. 15 Oct 1950 – Motorbuses replaced by trolleybuses on service 2 – Newport Road and St. Mary Street and outer terminal point extended to Clydesmuir Road, Pengam.
  17. 21 Oct 1951 – Trolleybus service reorganised. Services 4, 8 and 9 introduced.
  18. 8 May 1955 – Motorbuses replaced by trolleybuses on service 27 – General Station and Ely and service number altered to 10a/b.
  19. 25 Nov 1962 – Trolleybuses replaced by motorbuses on services 2 – Pengam and St. Mary Street and 2a – Pengam and Victoria Park.
  20. 12 Jan 1964 – Trolleybuses replaced by motorbuses on service 14 – Monument and Pier Head and service combined with no. 2.
  21. 22 Jul 1965 – Trolley buses withdrawn from services 5a/b – Victoria Park and Wood Street. No replacement service.
  22. 24 Jul 1965 – Trolley buses withdrawn from services 5 – Victoria Park and Windsor Lane. No replacement service.
  23. 17 Dec 1965 – Trolleybuses replaced by motorbuses on Wood Street and Pier Head section of services 6 and 9. Weight restriction on Wood Street bridge.
  24. 17 Apr 1966 – Trolleybuses replaced by motorbuses on remaining sections of services 6 and 9 and through services from Llandaff Fields and Gabalfa to Pier Head restored.
  25. 17 Sep 1966 – Trolleybuses withdrawn from service 4 – Llandaff Fields and Roath Park. No direct replacement services.
  26. 18 Feb 1968 – Trolleybuses replaced by motorbuses on service 8 – Victoria Park and Royal Oak and Royal Oak terminus transferred to Dorchester Avenue.
  27. 28 Apr 1968 – Trolleybuses replaced by motorbuses on service 1 – Whitchurch Road and St. Mary Street. Trolleybuses replaced by motorbuses on service 3 – Roath Park and St. Mary Street. Service extended and renumbered 58/59.
  28. 11 Jan 1970 – Trolleybuses replaced by motorbuses on service 10a/b. Routes revised and renumbered 14/15. Operation of last trolleybus in Cardiff.
  29. 14 Jan 2022 – Cardiff Bus officially launch their electric bus fleet. 36 electric buses operate on 44/45, 49/50 & 27/28. A special “crimson lake and cream” livery celebrates the 120 year anniversary.

Links

Image Credits

  1. Cardiff trolleybus 229 in 1966 – © Copyright Alan Murray-Rust and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
  2. Cardiff’s first trolleybus – I couldn’t the owner of this image. It’s from the Cardiff Bus website.
  3. At the Angel Hotel in 1970 – © Copyright Alan Murray-Rust and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
About Jack Davies

Founder and editor of Tongwynlais.com and CastellCoch.com.

1 thought on “120 Years of Electric Transport in Cardiff”

  1. I love this article for the memories it evokes for me.

    As someone who grew up in Swansea it was always the sight of the first Trolly Bus as we came into Ely, soon after Culverhouse Cross, that let me know we had arrived in Cardiff. I’d sit up in the back of the car and see how many we could spot from there until we arrived at our destination. It is worth remembering that when I was a child in the 60s the A48 route was the only way to Cardiff from Swansea, long before the M4 was built.

    As a young child the Trolly Buses seemed to be the height of modern technology and a sign that I was coming to the Capital City not some backward town like Swansea (yes, it wasn’t even a city back in those days, that only happened in the last year of my primary schooling.)

    They obviously made a mark on me as I’ve always been thrilled when visiting places that still have trolly buses – San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Milan, Marseille, Nice and Naples all come to mind – to jump onboard and ride them imagining how good it would be if Cardiff still had some. I reckon Cardiff missed a trick in not keeping its system alive but replacing it with the motor omnibuses that were common everywhere.

    Reply

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