The first Monaco Grand Prix motor race took place in 1929 and early pictures show racing cars crossing the tracks of a tram system that was still operational, but which of course had been suspended during the race. Our postcard is much earlier and was posted on 14th May 1903 (exactly five years to the day after inauguration of the tram service) from Nice to Gravesend in Kent, England, the picture dating from a little earlier. It shows Monaco car 8 outside the Casino at Monte-Carlo and is running on the stud contact system. The card has an undivided back, with space for writing next to the picture, and is number 562 in the "N.D.Phot" series of Neurdein et Cie of Paris.
On 24th January 1897 there was an ordinance setting up the tramway as a public utility and ceding its operation to a Monsieur Crovetto, a citizen of the Principality of Monaco. With the involvement of the Thomson-Houston company the line was constructed during 1897. On 14th May 1898 the system was opened, with His Serene Highness the Prince of Monaco riding on the first car, which was decorated for the occasion and carried the Grimaldi coat of arms, the Grimaldi dynasty being the ruling family of the Monaco area for centuries. The initial route was from Monaco Place d'Armes to Saint-Roman, where the depot was situated. From 11th March 1899 there were extensions from Monaco Gare (railway station) to Place de la Visitation via Place d'Armes and from near the Casino to Monte-Carlo Gare.
The tramway had nine luxury metre gauge cars which were 8.40m long and 2.12m wide, were painted olive green and which carried 36 passengers, 24 seated in two classes on "two and one" seats and with 6 more standing on each platform. They were mounted on 2.13m wheelbase Brill 21E 4-wheel trucks having two GE53 42-horsepower motors and B16 controllers with rheostatic emergency brakes. The service braking was with hand operated wheel brakes, surprising since there were gradients as steep as 9.3% on the slope from La Condamine and 7.7% on the hill to Place de la Visitation. Batteries on the cars were used to energize the rheostatic brakes, for lighting and for the current collection system.
At first there were objections to overhead wires spoiling the appearance of the towns, so a system of stud contacts was installed by Thomson-Houston. This consisted of two rows of staggered studs at 3m intervals, each set 30cm from the running rails, one set for power, the other for control. Line voltage electricity was supplied to each of the power studs via relays in groups of 22 laid at intervals under the pavement. Each tram had two skates underneath, which were in contact with the studs. The tram provided power from its batteries to a stud in the control set. This closed the appropriate relay to connect the line power to the next stud on the power set and in turn supply the car. Once the car had passed, the power studs became dead again. As with many such surface contact systems, these studs were not a total success, in this case with problems of current leakage because the power studs were so close to the running rails.
In 1903 the trams of the Compagnie des Tramways de Nice et du Littoral (T.N.L.) reached the Principality (see postcard) and it was decided to replace the stud system with normal overhead, to be used by both sets of trams. Trolley poles were fitted to the Monaco cars and on 7th November started operation. Despite this, Monaco cars never left the Principality due to their greater width (T.N.L. cars were only 1.90m wide), except for one occasion when a tram towed an overhead maintenance wagon over T.N.L. tracks just as far as Cap d'Ail.
On 1st August 1908 the operation of the tramway was passed to the T.N.L. There was little change except that the trams were fitted with sun shades over the driver's position. At some date around 1914 the short spur from Monaco Gare to Place d'Armes was closed and the routes revised. In common with the rest of the T.N.L., the trams also received destination boards on the roof, which consisted of a square with a coloured disc. In January 1923 they were given numbers in the T.N.L. system, 41 - Monaco Visitation to Saint Roman - red disc, and 42 - Place d'Armes to Monte-Carlo - blue disc. Following the closure of T.N.L. route 24 from Nice on 26th January 1931, the town tramway closed on 1st July 1931, with the very last trams on the Principality tracks being those on T.N.L. route 43 from Monte-Carlo (Beaux-Arts) to Menton Garavan, which ended on 21st January 1932.
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