No Trams in Kent – How Long Must We Go On Waiting?

No trams in Kent
Photo of Stadler Rail Variobahn tram arriving at Sandilands provided by the author

Trams Lost in London and Edinburgh

Why are there no trams in Kent? When I was eight I visited Edinburgh, whose trams were still in operation, and took a tram ride with my grandparents from the city centre to Leith Harbour and back. I rejoiced as the conductor swept along the top deck reversing the direction of the seat backs with a most wonderful cacophony. At the same time the motorman was swinging the fishing pole from one end of the tram to the other, ready to start our return journey to Edinburgh centre. 

The last tram of the original network ran in 1956. However, a new system was inaugurated in 2014, with modern single-deck tramcars. Trams! I just love them. I was six when in 1952 the last London tram trundled into its depot for the final time.

Trams Give Way to the Bus

Throughout the fifties those municipalities with tramways closed them down and tore up the tracks. Petroleum was cheap and the ravages of the Second World War had left nothing in the coffers for repairing and upgrading the groaning tram systems. They could not compete with the internal combustion engine.

It was also believed at the time that the motor bus had distinct advantages over transport systems using electric propulsion, eg the trolleybus.

Blackpool Tramway

There’s one place in the United Kingdom which never abandoned its trams: Blackpool, which opened its Tramway in 1885. With a single line of approximately 18 km along the Fylde Coast from Blackpool to Fleetwood it became, and remains, a tourist attraction.

The system still uses heritage tramcars, especially during the summer and for the Illuminations. In 2012 the system was modernized with the introduction of state-of-the-art rolling stock.

No Trams In Kent

A century ago Kent was a-clatter with trams. From Dover to Dartford there were local systems. In fact, Dover boasts the first electrically-powered tramway in England. But where are they now? Many of them had gone by the end of the 1930s.

For example, Dartford replaced its trams with trolleybuses in late 1935. The Medway Towns’ system, the Chatham & District Light Railway, was opened in June 1902 and closed at the end of September 1930, a mere twenty-eight years, when it was replaced by motor buses.

Making a Comeback

As the years rolled on, the proliferation of private cars and the increasing pollution from the ubiquitous diesel (and petrol) engines forced a re-examination of the advantages of the tramway.

Greater Manchester led the way with their Metrolink, which opened in 1992, and at 101 km is the largest new system in the United Kingdom.

Manchester Metrolink tram by snazzyskips – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Sheffield’s Supertram appeared on the streets of that city in 1994, eventually operating over 34.7 route kilometres. In 1999 West Midlands Metro opened with 20.2 km, linking Birmingham with Wolverhampton.

Come the Millenium, come Croydon Tramlink, now known merely as Tramlink. Its three routes cover 28 km all converging on Croydon town centre and reaching out to Wimbledon in the west and Beckenham Junction and New Addington in the east.

To these we can add Nottingham Express Transit (2004; 32 km), and Edinburgh Trams (2014; 14 km)

What About Kent?

While urban areas across the country have been reintroducing tramways, as well as other forms of light rail, Kent has shown little sign of interest. But not none! For my idle grazing among the pages of the World Wide Web revealed two separate and unrelated schemes for tram systems in the county.

I came across the first proposal originally in an article in Kent Messenger from 2002: and also here. To follow this up I queried Medway Council’s archive and found a copy of the report presented to the Cabinet/Council by the company engaged to conduct the feasibility study, Mouchel Consulting. You can find the Cabinet agenda paper here and Cabinet decisions here. The PDF of the Study can be read here.

Where Did It Go?

Sadly the proposals were coolly received. The projected 2011 opening date has come and gone, but not a rail has been laid, not a tram has appeared.

Kent and Essex

The second proposal is much more recent, is live and concerns the linking of a number of important centres: Gravesend and Ebbsfleet in Kent, and Purfleet and Grays in Essex. Under the working title of “KenEx”, you can read details of it here.

Kent is still waiting

There are still no trams in Kent. As other parts of the country recognize the advantages of light rail’s contribution to local transport, Kent still awaits the arrival of its first modern tram system.

In the meantime I hope that we can give full-voiced support to Thames Gateway Tramlink as it promotes its system linking both sides of the Thames.