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A Century of Transport - Trolleybuses

The trolleybus received its power from electric overhead wires but, unlike the tramcar, was not restricted to tracks in the road. It could therefore manoeuvre around obstacles, especially when batteries were fitted for limited off-wire work. Trams began to be perceived by councils as getting in the way and the cars that had seemed such an improvement in the Edwardian era now needed replacement. Some operators remained with the tram and purchased new fleets of tramcars but others were influenced by the rapid improvements made in bus and trolleybus design in the twenties.

While the original trams introduced at the turn of the century were worn out, the support equipment such as sub-stations that fed them were not. This reduced the costs of introducing trolleybuses which could also use cheap municipal electricity. In the Midlands, Derby, Nottingham, Walsall and Wolverhampton Corporations favoured them in a big way, and Walsall soon followed. Wolverhampton was an early supporter of the breed and its trolleybus fleet may have been the biggest in the country at one time. They ran well beyond the town boundary, including a joint service with Walsall Corporation, whilst the final route, for example, operated to Dudley. There was also a rare example of company-owned trolleybuses in the form of Notts & Derby, replaced by buses in 1953.

Birmingham had two trolleybus routes to Nechells and along the Coventry Road but, influenced by the perpetual desire to rebuild the city, its councillors decided trolleybuses were also inflexible and that buses should replace the trolleybuses with the rest of the trams. Cheap municipal energy had been nationalised in 1948 and as the trolleybuses and support equipment wore out so they began to be replaced by buses everywhere. At the beginning of the 1950s, Birmingham's example was unusual but, by the end of the decade, trolleybuses were in steep decline and the last new ones were being built. In the Midlands, trolleybuses last ran in Nottingham in 1966, and Derby and Wolverhampton in 1967. The trolleybuses of Walsall Corporation survived to be absorbed into the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive in 1969 but were replaced by the new regime the following year. Up until then, Walsall Corporation's General Manager, Mr Ronald Edgley Cox, remained convinced that trolleybuses were right for the town. Fleet and infrastructure renewals were achieved cheaply by purchasing secondhand equipment from systems being closed down.

These electrically powered vehicles were almost silent in operation and did not vibrate like motorbuses and would today be regarded as environmentally more sound than the motorbuses which replaced them.

> Next.. 1927-1937: A Decade of Progress
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©Copyright 2019 Malcolm Keeley for the Transport Museum, Chapel Lane, Wythall, Worcestershire B47 6JA, England.
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