Grimsby Electric Railway

The electric tramway from Grimsby to Immingham, the last complete tramway to close in England, was unusual for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was the only tramway to be operated after 1945 by one of the main line railways (with the slightly atypical exception of the Ryde Pier Tramway); secondly, because it was railway owned, it underwent an even more convoluted closure procedure than the majority of other tramways; and, finally, it was effectively an interurban tramway possessing some of the longest tramcars ever to operate in Britain. By the end of the 19th century, the Great Central Railway had come to dominate railway transport in north Lincolnshire. However, it still lacked access to a deep water port through which it could ship out the coal mined at the Midlands pits that the Great Central Railway served. It therefore decided to construct a completely new dock complex at Immingham, some six miles north of Grimsby. As the docks would be a completely ‘green field’ development, the pool of labour from which the dock employees would be drawn were situated in Grimsby and there would need to be some form of transport linking the new docks with this source of labour.

The Actual construction of the dock facility was governed by the Humber Commercial Railway & Dock Act of 1904. The Great Central Railway, realising the need for transport links, obtained a Light Railway Order on 15th January 1906 for the Grimsby District Light Railway. Initial thoughts were that the light Railway would operate as two sections – one, which would be electrified, from Alexandra Dock in Grimsby along Corporation Road to Pyewipe and from there steam-operated to Immingham. Work commenced in late 1906 on the actual construction, but before this was completed the decision was made in 1909 that the line would be electrified throughout. Parallel with the eventual Grimsby & Immingham Electric Railway, there was also constructed a steam-operated freight line, and it was over this that the first passenger services – a steam rail-motor – operated between 3rd January 1910 and 14th May 1912. This freight line remains in use today as part of the complex of lines serving the Grimsby and Immingham area.

In March 1910 the contract for the new trams was let to the brush company and the first eight cars were delivered in late 1911 (Brush having stored them until then). 1910 also witnessed the completion of the street section (along Corporation Road) and the opening of the first phase of the docks. The line was completed throughout to Immingham Halt in mid-1911 and was inspected on 22nd November 1911. Public services were started on 15th May 19122, the day after the last temporary rail-motor services had operated. As the line was built by the Great Central Railway to carry dockers to the Great Central – owned docks at Immingham, the number of fare-paying passengers (as opposed to those carried free as part of their employment) was relatively small. This was not, necessarily, a problem when the whole operation was owned by one company as was the case with the Great Central and later with the LNER.

However, after 1948, with the nationalization of both the railways and the docks, the railways found the subsidy paid to the docks for the carriage of dockworkers free of charge an increasing burden, and this was a major contributory factor in the line’s eventual closure. At Immingham Halt the tramway stopped before the actual docks complex, and so in 1911 the Great Central obtained a further Act allowing for two extensions. One, which was built, took the tramway into the actual docks, while the second, towards Immingham village, was only constructed in part (along Queens Road) and never used regularly. The docks extension opened on 17th November 1913 and the abortive Queens Road route was inspected two years later on 20th July 1915.

In 1923 the Great Central Railway, along with the Grimsby & Immingham Electric Railway, passed to the newly-formed London & North Eastern Railway. The Grimsby & Immingham was one of two electric tramways that the LNER inherited, the second being the Cruden Bay line in Scotland. To the casual viewer, the most significant change after 1923 was that the trams appeared in the LNER teak livery, rather than the reddish brown that the Great Central had adopted.The 1920s were a period of little change for the line. At the Grimsby end, Corporation Bridge was rebuilt between 1925 and 1928, as had been long expected, but the tentative scheme to link the line with Grimsby’s electric tramcars came to nothing as Grimsby’s policy was to abandon the tramways it had inherited from the Great Grimsby Street Tramways Co in 1925. The powers to build the link line lapsed in 1931. Between 1927 and 1930 the LNER operated a local service over the street section, as a means of combating bus competition, but this was not a great success.

The 1930’s were to witness the first substantial changes to the composition of the fleet with the withdrawal of the four shorter vehicles (Nos 5-8). Whilst the ultimate fate of three of the cars is uncertain, the fourth (No 5) became a works car, in which guise it survived until being replaced by one of the ex-Gateshead cars in 1955. World War 2 was to see a number of significant developments. Firstly, Grimsby Corporation bought a large area of land between the tramway and the coast, upon which a major industrial estate was constructed. This had the effect of stimulating yet further the passenger demands made upon the tramway, and was a further bone of contention later in the tramway’s history when the companies which had established themselves along the line were unwilling to contribute to the operational costs of the service.

Also during the war, the irrelevant section of track in Queens Road was de-wired. The points at Immingham Halt leading to the section were removed in 1945 and the route’s traction columns were recovered in 1947. On 1st January 1948 the LNER was nationalised. Again the most immediate change was the appearance of a new livery, with some of the trams reappearing in brown. By the late 1940s there were, however, indications that all was not well with the tramway. As elsewhere, wartime conditions had led to a decline in maintenance, in particular the street section was causing grave concern, and the increasing traffic loads required additional cars. In 1948 and 1949 there were talks between British Railways and the Corporation over the future of the street tramway, and in early 1949 Grimsby’s Highway Committee sent a deputation to the Railway Executive seeking the street tramways curtailment ‘in the interests of the safety of traffic and pedestrians’. The talks failed as British Railways were only prepared to countenance abandonment if the Corporation agreed to fund the reinstatement work. With closure no longer an immediate option, the street tramway section was re-laid in part.

The question of additional rolling stock was also partially solved by the acquisition, in early 1948, of three single-deck cars from Newcastle. These cars were, however, destined to have a relatively short life in Grimsby, being replaced in the early 1950s by the second-hand cars acquired from Gateshead. In 1951 there were two significant changes to the fleet. Firstly, the Railway Executive decreed that all electric vehicles were to be painted in green, and this led to the Grimsby cars appearing in their fourth livery. Secondly, the opportunity was taken with the abandonment of Gateshead’s trams to acquire a number of their single-deck cars. A total of 19 cars were acquired; of the 19, 17 eventually entered service (at least two in their original Gateshead livery of red and cream), one (Gateshead No 4) was destroyed in an accident on delivery (the crane lifting the car’s body off the railway truck, on which the body had been delivered, collapsed on top of the car) and one (Gateshead No17) was converted into a breakdown car in place of the remaining original short car. The arrival of the Gateshead cars allowed for the withdrawal of the Ex-Newcastle cars and the first of the original Grimsby long cars.

For the next few years little changed on the tramway, but in February 1955 the Clerk to Grimsby Rural Council told members of the Town Council that 1955 was one of the years in which the council was empowered to acquire the street tramway. On 20th June 1955 British Railways notified the Council that the street tramway was available, free of charge, for replacement by Corporation buses. The offer was accepted and six second-hand buses were acquired. Despite considerable opposition the street tramway section was closed on 30th June 1956. Services now ran from Pywipe, where a connection was made with the replacement buses, to Immingham. No trams were withdrawn at this stage since the peak period still required a total of 19 cars. Despite this curtailment, investment continued to go into the tramway, with heating being installed in certain of the cars in 1957 and the rebuilding of two cars (Nos 1 and 14) after a fatal collision in January 1958.

In 1957 the power station at Immingham, which powered the tramway from the start, was reduced to stand-by status, and normal power was obtained from the commercial supply. The Power station was finally closed in 1958. Also, in 1958, the question of the cost of operating the line arose. As a result of the lines history a large proportion of the passengers traveled free, and the losses incurred by British Railways in operating the line were increasing. A request for financial support from the local industries that made use of the line failed and British Railways applied for closure of the line in July 1958. At the subsequent inquiry British Railways reported that the revenue from the line totaled £23,000 as opposed to direct operating costs of £72,000. There was, however, strong opposition, much of it the result of the County Council’s refusal to build a direct road between the two points. The inadequacy of alternative transport links led all the involved local authorities, in particular Grimsby Town Council, to come out against closure. At the Transport Users Consultative Committee meeting, held at Grimsby on 24th April 1959, a compromise was reached, whereby the docks would be served by buses using the indirect road, supplemented by the trams at peak hours. This new arrangement came into effect on 28th September 1959, thereby reducing the number of trams required to a maximum of 10.

Inevitably, gradual improvements were made to the condition of the road (although no direct road has even in 1991 been built), and patronage of the tramway continued to decline. It came as little surprise, therefore, that British Railways announced closure for a second time on 29th December 1960, going one stage further on this occasion by stating that even if permission were refused, the electric cars would be withdrawn and replaced by a new diesel service. Grimsby Corporation, worried by the possible impact of the proposed diesel service on its own bus services, this time agreed to support the closure. At the meeting of the TUCC held in Grimsby on 21/22nd February 1961 there were only 10 objectors, and, inevitably, consent was given to closure. British Railways announced that the last day of operation would be 1st July 1961 – the first day upon which the TUCC had allowed closure – and closure took place as scheduled. The official last car was one of the original ex-Great Central trams, No 4. Of the trams, one of the original Great Central cars (No 14) was acquired on behalf of the national collection. Two other cars (ex-Gateshead Nos 5 and 10) were also preserved and have now been restored to their original condition. The remaining trams were dismantled by 1963.