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This article relates to UKmarker tram engines. For USmarker tram engines see Steam dummy
A tram engine is a locomotive specially built, or modified, to work on a street, or roadside, tramway.

Steam tram engines

In the steam locomotive era, tram engines had to comply with certain legal requirements, although these varied from country to country:

  • The engine must be governed to a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour (8 mph in the UK)
  • No steam or smoke may be emitted
  • It must be free from noise produced by blast or clatter
  • The machinery must be concealed from view at all points above 4 inches from rail level

To avoid smoke, the fuel used was coke, rather than coal. To prevent visible emission of steam, two opposite systems were used:

  • condensing the exhaust steam and returning the condensate to the water tank
  • superheating the exhaust steam to make it invisible


Henry Hughes

Henry Hughesmarker of the Falcon Works, Loughboroughmarker started building tram engines in 1876. His engines were of the saddle-tank type and exhaust steam was condensed in a tank under the footplate by jets of cold water from the saddle-tank.

Kitson & Co

Kitson & Co. started to build tram engines in 1878. They used a roof-mounted, air-cooled, condenser of thin copper tubes in which the exhaust steam was condensed. This is rather like the radiator on a modern road vehicle. The air-cooled system eventually became standard for steam tram engines.

William Wilkinson

William Wilkinson of Wiganmarker patented the superheating system about 1881. It now seems bizarre to superheat steam after, rather than before, use because it would involve considerable waste of fuel. Despite this, the Wilkinson system was popular for a time and engines of the Wilkinson type continued to be built up to about 1886.


Other British builders of steam tram engines included:


Steam tram engines faded out around 1900, being replaced by electric trams or buses.

Stored energy types

Tram engines have been built to run on stored energy in various forms, including:

These engines have not met with great success because of their limited range.

Diesel tram engines

Four of the British Rail Class 04 diesel locomotives were fitted with sideplates and cowcatchers for working on the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway.


In popular culture

The character Toby the Tram Engine, from The Railway Series of children's books by The Rev. W. Awdry, and the spin-off TV series Thomas and Friends, was based on the LNER Class J70 tram engines that were to be found on the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway.

Sources, Literature

  • History of the Steam Tram by H. A. Whitcombe, published by the Oakwood Press in 1961
  • The British Steam Tram by J.S. Webb
  • A History of the British Steam Tram, volume 1, by David Gladwin, 2004

External links

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