Here’s everything we learned from this map of London’s defunct tram network

Those were the days: London’s lost tram routes. Image: Getty.

In 1860, George Francis Train, an eccentric American rail magnate who seemed to be in the grip of some form of some form of nominative determinism, created London’s first tram: a horse-drawn route along Victoria Street. The following year, he was nicked, for “breaking and injuring” the Uxbridge Road.

That wasn’t enough to stop the rise of the tram, of course. In 1870 they were officially authorised by act of parliament, and for the next eighty years, they were a big part of London life.

But the last routes of that original network closed in 1952. Since then they’ve been erased so completely from our mental image of London that more than one person has acted surprised when I told them there were trams on the streets of south London today.

Part of the problem is that there was never a tram equivalent of the tube map, to lock them into the city’s cultural memory. On scattered corners of the internet you can find photographs of old maps, but they’re generally so tiny it’s all but impossible to see where the trams actually went.

Normally here we say click to expand, but not much point to be honest.

Luckily then, that somebody’s done it properly:

You can zoom into this on ShareMap.org, to check exactly which roads the trams served (though sadly, not which trams served which routes). But in case that sounds like a lot of effort, here are some thoughts.


Trams didn’t go to posh places

There are almost no trams in Westminster: one route down Vauxhall Bridge Road, another on the Embankment, but that’s about it. They’re even less of a factor in chichi Kensington which, best I can tell, had not a single inch of track.

This might have reflected lack of demand, due to private cars or the tube. Or it might simply be that the locals didn’t allow anyone to build the bloody things.

Trams barely went to the City

At Aldgate, Moorgate, the north ends of the bridges: time and again, the boundaries of the square mile mark the end of the line. Again, this might reflect the fact the tube was providing transport instead – but it’s hard to miss the whiff of NIMBYism to which the Corporation of London remained committed right up until around 2000, when it realised Canary Wharf was about to eat its lunch.

Trams didn’t go to Hampstead

I was going to suggest this might be because they didn’t cope well with hills, but they made it up to Highgate okay. Once again, I suspect the influence of posh residents is at work here.

Trams refresh the parts other transport modes cannot reach

Nonetheless, it’d be silly to ignore the influence of the Underground on the map of London’s tram network altogether.

By the 1930s, the tube was all but complete: no Victoria line, and no Jubilee (although the bit from Baker Street to Stanmore was already running, as part of the Bakerloo), but otherwise the map would have been pretty recognisable to the modern commuter. That means that, at the peak of the tram network, the tube was already showing its prominent north western bias.

And this, one suspects, is one reason the tram network was so much more extensive to the east and south of the city centre. Places like Lewisham, Brixton or Hackney weren’t on the tube – but that didn’t matter so much because they had trams instead.

At any rate, back in the day, north east London had a tram on almost every significant road:

If the big gap around Hackney Wick looks like a hole in the network, it’s worth remembering that, as recently as 10 years ago, that was still basically industrial wasteland.

Similarly, while the area round the Old Kent Road may have neither tube nor rail lines, it did at least have trams back in the day.

So it’s probably no coincidence that…

Trams served the parts of town now dependent on buses

…many of London’s busiest bus corridors are routes which were once served by tram. On this map, you can trace the route of the 38, all the way from Clapton Pond to Holborn, or the 53 from Plumstead to Westminster.

The Kingsway Tunnel was the Crossrail of its day

Okay not really, but it felt like a good tagline.

As noted a few paragraphs back, very few trams penetrated into either the City of Westminster. That meant that, just like their bigger, heavier train counterparts, very few trams could cross central London.

There was, however, a single line which ran from one side of London to the other, using which trams could travel from north London to south. At Southampton Row, just north of Holborn, trams would drop into a tunnel under Kingsway, serving two underground stops at Holborn and Aldwych, before emerging on the Embankment under Waterloo Bridge. From there, they would use Westminster or Blackfriars Bridges to continue their journey south. (I’d always assumed they’d cross the bridge, but turns out I assumed wrong).

The southern part of the tunnel is still in use, as the Strand Underpass – but now it is used entirely by cars. Which feels horribly fitting, somehow.

If you’d like to explore the map in greater detail, you can do so here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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