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The Great Orme Tramway Centenary

The Great Orme Tramway Centenary 1902 - 2002

5 Car on Old Road, just after leaving Victoria Station
The Great Orme Tramway Centenary Logo

Tramway Photos

Tramway Facts

Directors and Staff on the opening day - 31 July 1902

100 Tramtastic years of The Great Orme Tramway!

The Great Orme is a rocky limestone headland - almost an enormous rock - that marks the western end of the resort town of Llandudno in North Wales. The Great Orme Tramway allows the visitor to ride up the Orme for the views, bracing walks and tea at the Randolph Turpin Hotel at the summit complex as well as explore the Wildlife Centre, country park and nature reserve, with it variety of flora and fauna, goats and birds, some of which is unique to the Great Orme. Also within easy reach is the ancient church of St. Tudno.

The cable tramway is unique in the UK and only one of three operating worldwide, the other two being in San Francisco and Lisbon. This tramway is really made up of two funiculars end-to-end with the lower funicular starting in a narrow street with the track laid in a paved roadway with the cable in a conduit like the San Francisco cable cars and the upper tramway starting at the Halfway House, where you change trams.

A single rope driven from the engine-house hauls the cars - as one car ascends, the other descends. The upper funicular is laid as an open track with the cable clearly visible running over its pulleys. An endless cable driven from the engine-house hauls the cars with the cable running around an idler pulley at the summit terminus.

By the end of the 19th Century Llandudno was a popular resort with thousands of visitors making the climb up the Great Orme to see the spectacular views from the summit so to make the going easier, local businessmen proposed the construction of a tramway and work began in April 1901.

It was originally hoped that the lower section of the tramway would be ready in May 1902, for a royal opening by the Prince of Wales but it wasn't until 31st July 1902 that the first trams got underway to the strains of the local band playing 'God Save the King'. Locals and visitors took an immediate liking to the new attraction and by October of the same year, the tramway had carried 70,000 passengers, many of them riding to the summit in order to catch the spectacular sunsets. The tramway now carries over 500,000 visitors every year.

Great Orme Tramway - Centenary Logo

The Great Orme Tramway Centenary Teddy Bear

Victoria Station Llandudno, Wales

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Car 4 descending Old Road

The view over the tramway tracks toward Llandudno

The approach to the Summit

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Summit Station, Great Orme, Llandudno, UK

Summit Complex, Great Orme, Llandudno, UK

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By 8th July 1903 work had finished on the upper section and no fewer than 77,410 passengers travelled on the trams that year. The winter of 1903 also saw the construction of the Victoria Station building in the town with its covered waiting area and it is virtually unchanged to this day.

Everything ran reasonably smoothly for nearly 30 years and then on Wednesday 23rd August 1932, the unthinkable happened. As car No.4 was descending the steepest gradient the steel drawbar suddenly broke and the car became detached from the cable. A new brake device, which automatically brought the car to smooth halt if speed exceeded 6.5 mph, was tested in 1933, and passed the trial with flying colours.

Despite increasing competition from local bus companies the tramway prospered and by 1953 was carrying nearly 250,000 passengers a season and earning enough profit to invest in track renewals. In 1956 the winding gear was converted from steam to electric drive.

To celebrate the tramway's 75th anniversary the cars were repainted and the Mayor of Aberconwy unveiled a plaque at Victoria Station listing milestones in the line's history. Guests dressed in Victorian costume rode the tram; the town's band played and each of the 2000 passengers that day received a commemorative certificate. Colwyn County Borough Council now run the tramway.

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For the fact hounds...

Tramway Idea Conceived: The Great Orme Tramway Act was passed by Parliament in 1898

Ownership: The Great Orme Tramway Company 1898 - 1948. Llandudno Urban District Council from 1/1/1949 and following local government re-organisation in 1974, control passed to Aberconwy Borough Council. In 1977, the tramway reverted to its original name “The Great Orme Tramway.” and it is now run by Conwy County Borough Council.

Original Contractors: R White & Son of Widnes, England

Lower Track: Started: April 1901; Opened: July 1902; Length: 797 metres; Gradient 1:3.9 (max); Gauge: 1067mm; Winding engine power: Electric (since 1957)

Upper Track: Opened: 8 July 1903; Length: 756 metres; Gradient: 1:10.3 (max); Gauge: 1067mm; Winding engine power: Electric (since 1957)

First Fare Paying Passengers: 31 July 1902

Fare 1902: 2s 6d (GBP 0 . 12.5) Season Ticket: 15s (GBP 0.75)

Victoria Station: Opened in 1904.

New Halfway Station: Opened on 20 September 2001

Accidents: August 1932 - 2 Killed (Re-opened in 1934)

Communication: 1902 - Telephone and bell code system. Since 2001 a Doppelmayr inductive loop communication and control system, running the full length of the trackway. The winchman, at the halfway house, also has a VDU monitor and tram position indicator.

Open for passengers: 10am to 5pm each day - March to October

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