Birmingham Central Tramways 75 Class Cable Tram

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Photo courtesy of Crich TMS photo archive

The late nineteenth century tramway era was one of experimentation as the quest for an alternative form of propulsion to horses gathered pace in Britain and elsewhere. Steam haulage was one obvious option, having already been adopted for mainline railways but it, too, had its drawbacks in the much more confined and congested environment of urban street tramways.

Another form of traction that showed some early promise was the cable tramway, in which a fleet of non-motorised tramcars is hauled along the track by means of a continuously moving cable, which is drawn at a constant speed through a duct located between the tracks. Each individual tramcar gains traction when the operator activates a ‘grip’ that attaches the car to the moving cable through a slot beneath the vehicle, which gives access to the duct containing the cable. Conversely, the tramcar is brought to a standstill when the operator causes the grip to be released and applies the brakes.

The cable itself is propelled by means of a stationery motor or ‘winding engine’ that is located in its own dedicated engine house. Many of the early cable tramways were powered by steam engines (as used in Birmingham) but other forms of propulsion could also be used. The Birmingham cable consisted of six steel strands, each comprising nineteen steel wires plaited around a hemp rope core. A series of pulleys guides the cable along the route through a conduit under the road surface.

One major advantage with cable traction is that it does not depend on adhesion being maintained between a tramcar’s wheels and the rails, as with steam or electric traction; and, as a result, cable tramways are capable of operating on much steeper gradients than rival forms of traction.

Car no. 5 on San Francisco Municipal Railway, Powell Mason Line. Photo by David Wood, February 2014

Indeed, many of the earliest and best-known cable tramways were installed in districts that were renowned for their steep gradients. They include the world’s first such cable-operated street tramway, in San Francisco, which began operating in August 1873 and, remarkably, still operates today.


Type of tram
Double deck open topped (steam driven) cable-operated bogie tramcar
Sage and dark green
Seating capacity
Date built
Manufacturer of body
Falcon, Loughborough
Manufacturer of truck
Plate-frame bogies
3' 6”
Current collector


Withdrawn from service

30th June 1911

Subsequent history

Body sold and converted into a summer house in Smethwick, where it remained for many years

Restoration history

Since being taken into preservation it remained in secure storage at the Black Country Museum until November 2017, while awaiting restoration.

Current status
Date started operating at Crich
Total mileage covered at Crich
Current location
Museum's off-site storage facility
Future plans

Under consideration since its recent acquisition

  • 1888 – 1911Operational on original tramway
  • 1911 – 1970sConverted to summer house
  • 1970s – 2017In storage at Black Country Museum
  • 2018 – dateMuseum’s off-site storage facility

Crich Tramway Village is a brand name for the National Tramway Museum (Accredited with Arts Council England), solely owned and operated by The Tramway Museum Society, incorporated in England with liability by guarantee (no. 744229). Registered charity number 313615. Our ICO number is Z6700136.