While many European cities now offer trams as a convenient, environmentally friendly method of transport, there are few that offer the opportunity to cruise sedately through an internationally important wetland and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Seaton Tramway can trace its origins back to 1949, the Lancaster Electrical Company in Barnet, North London and its tram enthusiast owner, Claude Lane. Rising from the ashes of Beeching’s mass railway closures, Lane succeeded in purchasing the Seaton to Colyton section and proceeded to ship what would become the tramway’s track system from Eastbourne in East Sussex.
Sadly, Lane never saw the tramway completed, dying of a heart attack on the 2nd April 1971. Allan Gardner took up the mantle as Managing Director and with assistance from staff and volunteers alike, finally saw the full tramway route completed in 1980. From its humble origins, the tramway has grown to encompass a fleet of thirteen cars, all 1:2 replicas of classic designs from British cities, including the only remaining tram from the former Exeter system still in service.
Exceptional flooding on the evening of Valentine’s Day 2014 saw sections of the track bed washed from beneath the tramway as the River Axe burst its banks and swept all before it. Power supply was also affected and the riverside depot in Seaton was inundated with flood water. This saw the Tramway forced to postpone their re-opening for the year, timed to coincide with the school half-term holidays. A reduced service between Colyton and Colyford was introduced while the half-mile section of damaged track was repaired, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds and six weeks of lost trade.
Happily, on reopening, the Tramway saw a boost to visitor numbers, seeing in excess of the 90,000 visitors the Tramway attracts every year, eager to experience a slower mode of travel and the chance to experience the wildlife of an internationally important wetland.