Llandudno is dominated by the massive bulk of the Great Orme. When it developed as a Victorian holiday resort in the mid C19th, visitors arrived in their thousands. Brave souls would climb the 679’ to the summit, but it was a long and very steep climb.
A tramway was opened in 1902, to take tourists effortlessly to the top of the Great Orme. As well as carrying passengers, the tramway also carried coffins for burial in St Tudno’s Church graveyard as well as freight. In its first season, it carried over 77,000 passengers.
The tramway was built in two sections with a power house at Halfway station, and the steam from coke-fired boilers fuelling the winding gear. Communication between the power house and the tram cars was provided by a telegraph system, operating over an overhead wire and trolley poles on the cars. Steam power was replaced in 1958 by electrically powered generators.
The line was closed for nearly two years in 1932 following an accident when the cable on the lower tram broke and the brakes failed. Two people were injured and ten injured. Threat of compensation claims led to liquidation of the company. The tramway was eventually was bought by the local authority and it is still owned and run by Conwy County Borough Council. Heritage Lottery money funded a massive preservation in 2000 when Halfway station was rebuilt and a new control and communication system installed. There a small exhibition with information about the tramway and the winding house, winding drums and electric motor can be seen
The tramway works on a funicular system, with trams crossing at a half way point. A cable is attached to the front end of each tramcar. The downward tram descends under gravity and its weight pulls up the ascending tram. The speed of the descending tram is controlled by a winchman at Halfway Station. Marks on the cables indicate when a tram is approaching a station.
The attendant (never called the driver) on the tramcar is responsible for the safety of the tram and uses the control panel at the front of the tram to communicate by buttons and lights with the winchman.
Trams travel at 4mph. If the cable should snap and the tram speed up, emergency brakes automatically operate as soon as the speed reaches 6mph. The tramcar is safely brought to a halt.
Trams leave from Victoria Station on Church Walks, which was built on the site of the former Victoria Hotel. From here, the trams climb up Old Road with gradients as steep as 1:4. There are views down to Llandudno and North Bay. The houses are soon left behind and the tram runs along the limestone scar before reaching Halfway Station. Here everyone has to get off and walk through the station building to the platform at the other side for the upper tram.
The tram now runs across the open hillside to Summit Station, where there is a cafe, bar, shop and visitor centre.
Trams run from late March to late October and each stage takes about ten minutes. Up trams do get very busy in the mornings and there can be long waits. Similarly there are often long queues for the down trams in the late afternoon.
This is a must not only for the gricer or industrial archaeologist buff but anyone visiting the town. It is definitely an experience not to be missed, but don’t expect a luxury ride as these are the original tramcars. You can however feel very superior as you wave to brave souls puffing their way up Old Road. Just choose good weather to visit as the tram cars do not have glass in the windows and are open to the elements – not much fun if it is windy and raining!
Being over a hundred years old, the tram cars were not designed to be disability friendly. There are three steps up into the tram car which can be difficult for those with reduce mobility. Two folding wheelchairs or pushchairs can be accommodated per tram ca. There are disabled toiets at Halfway Station and in the summit Complex.
There are more pictures “here”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/transport/rail/greatorme_tramway/index.html