kolkata trams
Picture Gallery at the bottom of this page

        THE BIRTH: This mode of transport was started about 2000 years ago. Rome ws under control of Augustus Ceaser . It was BC 27. The first tramcar of the world was built by Franciscas, a Roman citizen. It was a chariot for six persons to sit made of wood. This was pulled by one or two horses on rails made of bronze. Initially the tramcars plied in a route between Circus Maximus to  Porto Apea of Rome. Wihtin 20 years new routes were introduced in total 25 routes . The routes were named after alphabets. The nos. could not be increased more than 25 as the total number of Roman alphabets were 25.   Later these were so developed that some cars having 24 axles were pulled by 56 horses. This tram system survived for approximately 500 years. Towards 476 AD due to aggression by Tutonic, Hun and other clans the Roman empire was demolished. With the surrender of Roman empire the Tram system was also dead. 

       The Tram cars were lost from Rome but the story of Tram remained  in history books. The early 1800s saw tramcars plying in different parts of the world. Tram cars started plying in New York 14th. November 1832.

There is a story how the name "TRAM" came . The word 'tram' came from,  after the name of a certain Mr. Outram, who developed , a new form of transport in England which later came to be powered by electricity and is famous in the form we see today. In the West, it is referred to as the CABLE CAR. and Light Railways.


       Kolkata has many things to boast of . In fact, Metro rail and trams are two aspects of Kolkata, which still give the city an aura of exclusivity. 

The idea of running tramcars in Kolkata actually was initiated in the year 1867 , the but the British rule permitted Government of Bengal in 1870 to run tramcars to carry merchandise from Sealdah Rly. Station. Accordingly Government of Bengal sanctioned Rs.1 lakh to start tramcars from Sealdah station to Armenian Ghat of Hooghly river , the main idea being to carry goods arriving from villages at Sealdah for transport to different parts of India through Railways The merchandise had to be unloaded at Armenian Ghat and then carried on boats or bullock carts to Howrah Station..

       A horse tram system opened in January 1881, after a premature experiment in 1873,and a steam tramway line in 1882. Electric trams began running on March 27, 1902 and by 1921 there were 56 km of track and 512 cars in service.

In Kolkata tram cars were started on 18th. February 1873. It was first a car pulled by two horses brought from Australia. Wooden tram lines costing about Rupees 150,000 were laid between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat by the side of Hooghly river. Interstingly though meant mainly for carrying merchandise , the first and subsequent runs were for carrying passengers. The first tram had three cars, one for First Class and two for Second class for passengers were coupled to form one unit. Each car was attached with two horses, thus 6 horses started the inaugural run of tramcars in India. The first run was funny. The horses refused to listen on looking at the peculiar cars on wooden lines . There were hundreds of onlookers. Ultimately the onlookers  began shouting to frighten the horses and the first tram car of Kolkata and India started rolling on. Though meant for passengers the cars were mostly used to carry goods. The Australian horses soon became sick due to hot and humid weather of Kolkata. After 10 months of its inaugural run towards end of 1873 the tram cars of Kolkata were stopped.

       Kolkata was the Capital of British Indian Empire. Trade and commerce increased day by day. Fast mode of transport was necessary.  Mr Parish  Alfred of London and Mr. Chauter of Liverpool understood the importance of the necessity for faster mode of transport to make trade commercially more viable. With the co-operation of Kolkata Municipal Corporation they incorporated the Kolkata Tramways Company Limited (CTC) in 1880(Other opinion 1979)  The same year  on 10th. November again tramways were introduced in Kolkata with horse drawn coaches, from Sealdah to Dalhousie Square Central District.(according to another opinion it was in January 1881). Gradually tramlines were laid to Chowringhee, Esplanade, Chitpur Road, Shyambazar, Strand Road and Wellesley. New steel lines were laid from Khidirpur to Esplanade(Dharamtolla). Old Kolkatans still remember the journey from Kidderpore to Esplanade, through the lush green Kidderpore Road and Race Course journey in a tram are bound to experience some aspects of greenery of Kolkata. According to another source, Tram services started in Kolkata more than a hundred years ago. First it was the horse-drawn carriages which ran from Dharamtolla to Barrackpur in 1880. It took more than four hours to reach Barrackpur. But then, speed was not that important those days. In fact no sign of any tram line is seen on the roads to Barrackpur now. Another source says , Steam drawn cars were also tried in Calcutta in May 1882, but was abandoned being unsuccessful.

       With the advent of technology, trams driven with electricity came into being. The tracks were improved to make the journeys smoother and safer. From then on, trams became a permanent feature of Kolkata. 

The cars were all imported from England. The repairs were done in the workshop setup for the purpose in Kolkata. The coaches had Driver’s cab and behind the cab wooden seats were provided for passengers. The Driver had a “Foot Gong” to warn pedestrians. The “Foot Gong” is still being used.

       With  the Industrial revolution in Europe there was  trial for running tramcars with steam engines. This was also not successful. After invention of Electricity the first electric tram ran between Khidirpur and Esplanade on 27th. March 1902.  

The old  design of wooden coaches was replaced with steel coaches with large windows. Electrically operated trams have three types of brakes - electrical brakes, air brakes and hand brakes.

       It is strange but true, that till 1952 all coaches were imported by the Kolkata Tram Company from England.

       The management of Kolkata trams was taken over by Government of West Bengal on 19th. July 1967 and was nationalised on 3rd. November 1976. Soon a bad patch followed for tramways. Large number of motor vehicles crowded the streets of Kolkata. It is a fact that Kolkata roads are less wide in comparison to those of other new cities of India and also covers less area . The population of the city has increased manifold. As a result, there are more cars on the road. But the amount of road space has not been increased proportionally. 

       Non-existence of dedicated tram tracks gives rise to traffic bottlenecks, Buses, cars and trams has to jostle for space in the same area. In the event of breakdown of trams, it becomes a nightmare for drivers to navigate a road. Thus it was a common sight that long lines of immobile tramcars occupying roads, either due to traffic jam or power cut which plagued the people of Kolkata in mid 60's and 70's of the last century. It is also a fact that the new generation of travelling passengers would avoid the tramways and they prefer fast moving buses. 

      High maintenance costs - each tram car costs five times more the cost of a luxury bus, the maintenance of tracks is a perennially high cost area. Every crossing has to be manned to change the tracks of the trams. All these problems have forced the government to think of phasing out trams. 

      The envy of many developed countries, Kolkata's tramways network is a priceless asset which should be preserved. Many European countries who in the 1950s and 1960s had discarded trams for being slow, obsolete and a source of traffic congestion are now spending millions of dollars re-laying tracks and bringing back trams because they are eco-friendly, efficient and economical.

     The state government has signed an agreement with ICF Kaiser International Inc to conduct a feasibility study for modernisation of CTC. In fact, Mr. Jyoti Basu has asked the same American transportation firm to carry out a feasibility study in 1995, bearing in mind the indigenous problems of Kolkata. Nothing happened. Some months later a German company showed interest in revamping the tramways. This too fizzled out. It is heard that elevated separate tracks with new  speedier tramcars are being planned to attract tourists. The need of the hour is less discussion and more action. Let there be no more doubts about the survival of Kolkata's trams. Instead of wasting money on more studies, it can be put to better use modernising the tramways. 

      Let us see what the government does to preserve this oldest heritage of Kolkata.


1873 :- The attempt to run a tramways service between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat Street of route length 2.4 mile was made on
Feb 24 The service was not adequately patronised and was wound up on Nov 20.

1880 :- The Calcutta Tramways co ltd was formed and registered in London on 22nd Dec , Meter -gauge horse-drawn tram track
between Sealdah to Armenian Ghat via Bowbazar Street, Dalhousie Sq. Customs House and Strand Road was laid . The route was inaugurated on 1st nov 1880.

1882 :- Steam locomotives were deployed experimentally to haul tramcars. By the end of the nineteenth century the Company owned 186 tramcars, 1000 horses, 7 steam locomotives and 19 miles of tram tracks.

1900 :- Electrification of Tramways and simultaneous reconstruction of tracks to the standard gauge (4'-8˝ '') was taken up. By the end of 1905 the entire system was converted to an electric traction.

1905 :- Howrah station to Bandhaghat section for tramways was opened in June. Lines to Sibpur via G.T. Road was made ready in 1908.

1943 :- The Calcutta system was connected with Howrah section through the new Howrah bridge in Feb with this extension , the total track length reached 42.09 miles (67.73Kms).

1951 :-The Govt. of West Bengal entered into an agreement with the Calcutta Tramways Co and the Calcutta Tramways Act, 1951 was enacted . The Govt took over all rights with regard to Tramways and reserved the right to purchase the system on 1st Jan, 1972 or any time thereafter giving two years notice.

1967 :- The Govt of West Bengal passed the Calcutta Tramways Company (Taking Over of Management ) Act, 1967 and took over the management on 19th July 1967. On November 8th, 1976 the Calcutta Tramways (Acquisition of Undertaking) Ordinance , 1976 was promulgated under which the Company with all its assets vested with the government.

1970 :-The Howrah sections were closed down in Oct 1970 and Dec 1971/1973 Nimtala Ghat route was closed down in May 1973. The total track length was reduced to 38.58 miles (62.08kms).

1985 :-On April 17, extension of track was completed connecting Maniktala to Ultadanga Station via Maniktala Main road (3.7 kms)
 This is the first Tramways extension since 1947.

1986 :- On Dec 31 further extension of tram track from Behala to Joka was completed.

1992 :- Calcutta Tramways Company has taken a new venture by introducing Bus services from 4th November 1992 initially with a
fleet of 40 buses.

     Down the memory lane, when the tram made its maiden journey from Sealdah to Armenian ghat, It left everyone spell bounded. In course of time,the trams has gone through vast modernisations but still it has rolled down the tracks like the tickings of Bigben. Having witnessed our glorious past in the rails,this tireless heritage has itself unfurled another golden chapter in our historical book.No doubt Kolkatan tram can be designated as a priceless pride having served as a rail witness from the era of Governor generals, maharajas to our present Kolkata & without which the Kolkatan history would remain incomplete. Kolkata Tramways'
 wheels that writes & sights our glorious past, present & our future too'
Source : Different News papers, articles and old magazines on History of Kolkata. & The CTC web site.

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A Tramway  fan from Australia at Kolkata



Elephant Car

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Elephant Car The early tram cars Sunrise      


'Fly'ing over Sealdah The formal look ! 'Eye' Decorated Car 'First two wagon trams Early electric tram Restored view of early tram
On the Sealdah Fly-over The formal look  'Eye' Decorated Car First two wagon tram first  electric tram Restored view of early tram

Early trams in 1944 Could not believe? Yes in early days trams ran in front of Writers' bldg. Flat Car Early horse drawn car kept in Nehru Museum A single car tram 1975 Tower Car