Site Logo Why the Demise

"Why and what was the reason, for removing trolley buses from UK cities and towns. I know that trolleybuses are still operating in Europe and elsewhere in the world."

If you would like an entry here, simply drop me an with your thoughts.

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From: "Irvine Bell" <>

The electric trolleybus is a long established form of urban public transportation. It had a heyday in the 1930s and 1940s as replacement for street tramways. Its fortunes began to decline in the 1950s as diesels became as cost effective and the 'inflexibility' of a fixed infrastructure became to be perceived as a disadvantage. At that time, decreasing public transport ridership was often just accepted as inevitable and environmental issues were of little concern. As equipment wore out, many trolleybus systems were replaced by diesels. Falling markets for trolleybuses and their equipment increased costs and accelerated the decline.

Outside Britain major oil supply crises in the 1970s reversed the process. Since then, the needs to improve urban public transport and increasing awareness of environmental issues have generated renewed interest in trolleybus technology. The technology itself has developed considerably e.g. the introduction of individual wheel drives permitting the ultimate in low floor arrangements. Existing systems have expanded and re-equipped and new systems opened. New trolleybus systems for Rome in Italy and Landskrona in Sweden were announced last year and Landskrona will open this autumn. A new system in the Moscow region opened recently making five systems in that region, including the main Moscow system which with about 2000 vehicles and 500 miles of routes is the largest in the world.

Substantial numbers of trolleybuses have recently been ordered by or delivered to Athens, Arnhem, Basel, Bern, Bologna, Boston, Dayton, Esslingen, Genoa, Lausanne, Linz, Lyon, Naples, St. Etienne, Salzberg, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Seattle and Solingen, amongst other places.

From: "Gordon Mackley" <>

There is no doubt that the size of the LT system compared to the rest of the UK made it inevitable that what London did would affect all other systems, both by direct factors such as availability of equipment and cost of same and also indirectly by influence.

The reasons for London's dieselisation are complex.

First the economics post-war were different to pre-war. Pre-war, trolleys were definitely cheaper than motor buses per passenger mile for many reasons including the small maximum capacity of motor buses [56 to keep within laden weight restrictions] and the high price of fuel [with a double deck petrol bus doing only about 4.5 miles per gallon] and the lower wages of trolleybus drivers compared to motor bus drivers. Post war all of these factors changed and the costs were around equal. No one in authority was interested in the environmental factors at that time and it was a fact that to change the wiring for any new traffic schemes required a large amount of paper work at associated high cost to LT [even though the actual costs of the poles and wires might be fairly cheap].

The other reason [although never really admitted by LT] was that the Chiswick bus people had spent a fortune producing the 'ultimate' motor bus, the Routemaster. This money had to be recouped by a production run of Routemasters to replace something. By 1958 [when the Routemasters were supposed to come on stream] and even by 1959 [when they actually did] the RT family fleet was not old enough to need replacing [the last ones having been built in 1954 and having only entered service in 1956]. The only vehicles the RM's could replace were the trolleybuses. So the demise of the London Trolleys and thus the remaining UK systems is the usual complex mix of ingredients, very few of which applied to the mainland of Europe.

Many systems did close in mainland European cities of course but a detailed research of each is necessary to identify exactly why some closed and others remained. I suspect in almost all cases of closure, economics [either true or false] were the reasons.

From: "Bruce Lake" <>

In provincial systems, electricity nationalization in 1948 meant that local operators could no longer generate their own cheap electricity [often from power stations built for the trams which was getting life expired], so the cost of operating went up.

At a similar time, petrol-engined motor-buses which could not shift 70+ passengers up any sort of hill, were being superseded by ever-improving diesel engined buses, whose capacity was rapidly approaching that of a trolleybus.

Gathering pace during the post-war decade were improvements and changes which culminated in the 1960's penchant for removing anything perceived as 'old'. One result of which was massive inner-city development, with their ring-roads, one-way systems and the like, which of course meant escalating costs for trolleybus overhead moving, just at the time when the above, more flexible [in this sense] diesel buses became practical.

There were subsidies for buying new diesel buses around this time, and subsidies on their fuel, neither of which applied to trolleybuses.

Similarly, the post-war boom in private cars meant that revenues from public transport were declining at the same time.

Councils were being squeezed on their budgets, if only because of the immense pressures on a multitude of other projects, hence anything that saved capital expense [or replacement] was seen as justifiable.

We just missed out on Green pressures and oil-dependency worries. The oil crisis of the early 70's was so close that I recall noises from Bradford about reversing the abandonment decision almost before all the wiring had been cut down and the trolleys sold off [although I'd have to check dates to be certain].

From: "Chris Irwin" <>

Have just come across your most interesting site.

With regard to abandonment there is no doubt that the nationalization of power supplies, which meant that cities could not "cross-subsidies" power for transport, had a big effect. Glasgow in particular lost out when their generating plant was transferred to the government.

However, the major factor was the suppliers. They were just not interested. I remember bumping into the Huddersfield Manager about 1963, when we both gazing in amazement at a section of new overhead on the Inner Ring Road, then being constructed. The amazement was due to the mix-up between the contractors and Corporation's wiring people, resulting in buses running down the wrong carriageway [i.e. against the traffic] for a few weeks. I did ask him that as they had gone to the expense of re-wiring quite a bit of the Waterloo route whether they meant to keep the remaining trolleys. No, he said, he would like to but the final straw was that British Leyland [who had come to own all the trolleybus makers] had just told him to order all spares needed for the next ten years as after they were made no spare parts would be supplied. So Huddersfield trolleys had to go and ten minutes was added to the Marsden route to allow for the slower motor buses.

A very good site.