Tram engine

A tram engine is a steam locomotive specially built, or modified, to work on a street, or roadside, tramway.

This article relates to European tram engines. For U.S. tram engines see Steam dummy

Steam tram engines

In the steam locomotive era, tram engines had to comply with certain legal requirements, although these varied from country to country:

  • The engine must be governed to a maximum speed of 16 kilometers per hour (9.9 mph) (12 km/h or 7.5 mph in the UK)
  • No steam or smoke may be emitted
  • It must be free from noise produced by blast or clatter
  • The machinery must be concealed from view at all points above 10 centimeters (3.9 in) from rail level
  • Most of the locomotives must have a cab at each end

To avoid smoke, the fuel used was coke, rather than coal. To prevent visible emission of steam, two opposite systems were used:

  • condensing the exhaust steam and returning the condensate to the water tank
  • Reheating the exhaust steam to make it invisible


United Kingdom

Beyer, Peacock

Beyer, Peacock and Company built some steam tram engines, including three for the Glyn Valley Tramway in Wales.

Henry Hughes

Hughes's Locomotive & Tramway Engine Works, Loughborough started building tram engines in 1876. His engines were of the saddle-tank type and exhaust steam was condensed in a tank under the footplate by jets of cold water from the saddle-tank.

Kitson & Co

Kitson & Co. started to build tram engines in 1878. They used a roof-mounted, air-cooled, condenser of thin copper tubes in which the exhaust steam was condensed. This is rather like the radiator on a modern road vehicle. The air-cooled system eventually became standard for steam tram engines.

William Wilkinson

William Wilkinson of Wigan patented the exhaust steam reheating system about 1881. It now seems bizarre to re-heat steam after, rather than before, use because it would involve waste of fuel. Despite this, the Wilkinson system was popular for a time and engines of the Wilkinson type continued to be built up to about 1886. Similar reheaters were also used for road steam wagons, such as the Sentinel.


Other British builders of steam tram engines included:



The German firm Krauss built steam tram engines, including one for the Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tramway in England.


Starting from the 1880s every steam locomotive builder in Belgium supplied the SNCV with tram engines (nearly 1000 of them were built). Ateliers de Tubize, FUF Haine-Saint-Pierre and Société de Saint-Léonard also supplied several tram engines to foreign companies such as Spain, the Netherlands, France or Italy.

The last steam engines were delivered in the early 1920s.


Corpet-Louvet, Décauville, Pinguely and Blanc-Misseron built engines for French and foreign tramways, the latter was created by Ateliers de Tubize in order to avoid taxation of imported locomotives. These companies also built industrial engines and some shunters ; large steam locomotives were mostly built by other companies.

United States of America


The Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, built steam tram engines, including most of those used in New South Wales, Australia.

A small number of steam tram engines were manufactured in Australia to Baldwin designs by Henry Vale, T. Wearne and the Randwick Tramway Workshops.


In cities, steam tram engines faded out around 1900, being replaced by electric trams or buses. Rural steam trams held longer until replaced by electric, diesel trams units or buses. In France and Belgium, the last steam-powered tram lines closed in the 1960s.


The character Toby the Tram Engine, from The Railway Series children's books by the Rev. W. Awdry, and the spin-off TV series Thomas & Friends, was based on the LNER Class J70 tram engines that were to be found on the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway.

Other types of propulsion

Diesel tram engines

Four of the British Rail Class 04 diesel locomotives were fitted with sideplates and cowcatchers for working on the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway.

Electric tram engines

There are a few examples of electric tram locomotives designed to pull traditional railway carriages through streets.

Stored energy types

Tram engines have been built to run on stored energy in various forms, including:

These engines have not met with great success because of their limited range.

Further reading

  • History of the Steam Tram by H. A. Whitcombe, published by the Oakwood Press in 1961
  • The British Steam Tram by J.S. Webb, Tramway and Light Railway Society
  • A History of the British Steam Tram, volume 1, by David Gladwin, 2004


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