The Sheerness Tramway

Sheerness is sited on the Isle of Sheppey which is situated just off the North Kent coast. In 1900 there were two companies wanting to provide the island with a tramway. By far the largest was the British electric Traction group who wanted to provide quite a large tramway system, the smaller being the Sheppey light Railway Company who eventually won the necessary permission to build a 2.5 mile tramway which was known as the Sheerness & District Electric Power and Traction Company.

Construction of the tramway started in 1901 with the 3’6” gauge single track, with passing loops, line running on one side of the road in much the same way the first Darlington horse tramway had done in 1862. The resultant ‘main line’ was 1.75 miles long from Sheerness pier and dockyard to Sheerness East station passing through the town centre on route. With the branch line running for ¾ mile to the east to a place called Cheyney Rock, the branch parting from the ‘main line in the town centre. The tramway was built on level ground for its whole distance so the cars had no difficult terrain to traverse.

When the tramway opened on 9th April 1903 with 12 open top double deck tramcars it became Britain’s smallest town tramway the cars having being provided by Brush Electrical Engineering Company Ltd of Loughborough. The trams operated on ‘A’ type trucks of 6’ length with 250hp motors being more than enough to power them. An interesting point is that they had Siemens bow collectors rather than the more common trolley poles used in the rest of the country. When the remaining 8 cars were sold to Darlington Corporation Tramways in 1918 these were removed and replaced with normal trolley poles. Siemens had also provided the overhead power equipment for the tramway.

Not long after opening of the tramway it was found that the number of cars was too high so it was decided in 1903 that cars 4 would be sold to the City of Birmingham tramways Company. The trams livery on opening was Chocolate and cream but by 1908 this had become green and cream. With the size of the system and lack of custom the tramway soon ran in to financial difficulties as it did not extend far enough towards the other populated areas of the island, had it done so it may have lasted some time longer. The system eventually closed in 1917 making it Britain’s first electric tramway to do so.