Dewi's Trains,
Trams & Trolleys

London Trams:
Laying new conduit tracks

Comments/corrections to: Dewi Williams

These tracks were laid on the South Bank of the Thames, in preparation for the Festival of Britain of 1951. As very few visitors were expected to use their own cars to attend, public transport was improved before the exhibition opened. Laying new tram routes was made easier because not all the bomb damage of WWII had been repaired at that time: new streets could be driven through bomb sites.

Apart from the other road vehicles in the photos, any of these pictures might have come from the 1899 issue of Cassier's Magazine, which had an article about the Metropolitan Street Railway of New York. Conduit track technology did not seem to have advanced in those 50 years.

A nearly-completed section of track, at the end of one of the detours (CanAmSpeak)/diversions (BritSpeak). The area between the tracks has been paved, up to the point where access is still needed to connect up the current conductors ("live rails").

View looking into the detour track. This shows both a long yoke (supporting the conduit beams and connecting to the running rails), and a short yoke (supporting the conduit only). A short yoke can be seen in the foreground, waiting to be used in connecting up to the existing track. No power rails have been laid in yet: they will be held up by insulators attached to the lower flange of each side beam of the conduit.

[Modern photo of yokes]

A modern photo, taken at the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden, showing a short yoke plus the conductor rails and insulators. The text cast into the yoke reads: "LCC" (i.e. London County Council) "AF Co Ld" and "1902".

The insulator is inside the inverted metal can, which has two bolts holding it to the lower flange. The upper flange is at the very top of the picture, and one conductor can just be seen at the bottom. One running rail crosses the bottom left of the picture.

The road surface had been opened up on existing track to get at this insulator.

More track under construction. There is very little support for the running rails at this point: concrete is eventually poured under and around them.  The stay rods, intended to prevent the conduit beams from tipping or warping, can just be seen.

Never before or since have I seen a track laid so close to a tree!


The previous photos have shown "normal" tracks (no turnouts). The next three photos show some details of a turnout/switch/points.

The tracks of the turnout are supported on concrete pillars: some can be seen on the right of the photo. The power rails have to be switched as well as the running rails: I don't have any photos of this (see the London Transport Museum for a working model) but you can see one of the double-yokes (NOT double-yolks) used where the tracks deviate.


A view of the other side: more concrete pillars. Obviously, the builders use oxy-acetylene welding rather than electric arc. I'm not sure what the vehicle immediately to the right of the tracks is: possibly a water-tank. However, it appears to be a left-over from the days of horse-drawn vehicles, as it has narrow spoked wooden wheels.

[Turnout, nearly complete]

Here is a nearly completed turnout. The sheer mass of metal in the street surface is obvious. It's quite hazardous to cross this on a bicycle, as I can attest from experience. Just visible on the right of the photo is the front of an approaching tram. The "gate" is triggered by any foreign object on the tracks: if it's triggered, it drops a shovel affair on the track, to keep the object (which might be a person) away from the wheels.

[Feltham car on new track]

A "Feltham" car on the new track.

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This page last updated on 2004-12-10