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East London among first cities in Africa to have introduced electric tram system

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

East London tram service, Oxford Street.

The East London tramway was officially opened on 25 Jan 1900 - just four years after the first such system was introduced in Cape Town.

According to esteemed East London historian, the late Dr Keith Tankard, the system consisted of three services:

  • The first ran from Market Square to the Beach, along Fleet Street and down Inverleigh Terrace to a terminus alongside the Beach Pavilion, where the East London Aquarium is today (there was no Esplanade yet).

  • The second line ran from Market Square to Park Avenue via Oxford Street, and on to Queen's Park.

  • The third line ran from Market Square to Southernwood, with its terminus in St George's Road at Gordon Street.

The trams, which ran at 20 minute intervals from 5.50am to 10.30pm, were state-of-the-art vehicles.

"Double-decker tramcars were shipped from England in finished form," Dr Tankard wrote.

Each tram was capable of seating 15 passengers downstairs and another 18 on the open upper deck. Inside were cane reversible seats, with wooden seats up top where they would get wet when it rained.

"The cars had plate-glass windows, each with a horse-hair blind and wooden blinds fixed on the outside to shield from the sun without obstructing the view. These could be pulled right down on rainy days. The lights were of cut glass, and the car inner walls were panelled in wood."

After Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London, the other South African cities to launch electric trams were:

Durban - 1902 Pietermaritzburg - 1904 Johannesburg - 1906 Kimberley - 1906 Pretoria - 1910

Pictures courtesy of the East London Museum.

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