'Accidents will happen' and they often did with trams on hilly routes. In the early days, the electric tram was 'new technology' and that, combined with inexperienced drivers, led to at least one serious or tragic accident on most British tramways with a steep hill. In Kent, both Chatham and Dover recorded serious tram accidents but the Thanet system in the north-east corner of the county had far more than its fair share.
The Isle of Thanet Electric Tramways & Lighting Co.Ltd. opened its 3ft 6in gauge electric tramway on 4th April 1901, and linked the towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate, which after small extensions on 6th July 1901 was approximately 11 miles of route. The first 40 cars (Nos.1-40 but in two separate series) were delivered during 1901 in kit form from the St.Louis Car Co. of the United States but, because of slow delivery, a series of British-built cars (Nos.41-50) was also supplied in 1901 by G.F.Milnes & Co.Ltd. on Brill 21E trucks of 6ft wheelbase and fitted with two 35hp General Electric motors. Livery until 1927 was a rich maroon and yellowish cream.
On August 3rd 1905 during a typical wet summer day, car 41 was descending the steep, double curves of Madeira Walk towards Ramsgate harbour when it ran out of control, jumped the track and crashed through railings to fall over 30 feet down a cliff. Fortunately, there were few people on board and only the driver (on only his second week of duty) was injured. As so often in such cases, the cause was inadequate braking systems coupled with driver inexperience although badly chipped wheel flanges and an adverse track camber contributed to the tram's downfall. The car was stripped of all useful parts and the body remains were burned on the spot.
Our real photo postcard shows the scene shortly after the accident and was published by Carpenter of Ramsgate and is one of a short series of the incident. This particular card has not been posted but it was common for such 'disaster' cards to be available for sale within 24 hours.
The tramway continued operation, with few major changes and with no more major accidents, until closure on 27th March 1937, when services were taken over by buses of the East Kent Road Car Co.
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