Great Orme Tramway

How it Works

Understanding a funicular system

The Great Orme Tramway operates by a funicular system and is controlled by a team of Winchmen and Attendants. Here’s how it works:

The ascending tram needs a lot of help. It is impossible for a heavy vehicle to climb such a steep slope against gravity without power to help it. Some of this power is found in the descending tram.

The trams are linked by cable which makes it possible for the one tram to pull the other up.

The Tramway is controlled from the engine house at the Halfway Station. When you visit here look out for the powerful electric motors, and the drums and cables attached to the trams. Here also are the two Winchmen who control the motors, one winchman for the upper track and one for the lower track.

On a funicular system such as the Great Orme Tramway the descending tram moves easily down the track. The downward gradient and gravity help it on its way.

The Winding Shed, found at the top of the tracks contains a large winding drum that the cable is wrapped around the several times. This ensures there’s sufficient friction for the brake to slow the speed of the wagons without the cable slipping.

Look through the window of the control room and you will see me. I am the one facing downwards. I am sitting alongside the electric motor which I control. In front of me is my control panel of buttons and lights.

On this I receive the signals from the tram attendants– start, slow and stop. At my right hand is a lever which controls the speed of the motor and therefore the trams.

When I receive two ready lights from the tram attendants of the ascending and descending trams I take the brake off gently and set the motor in motion, I then slowly raise the speed.

I slow down the ascending tram down as soon as it approaches the traffic lights and the trackpoints, but I must also always be ready for emergency stops. I have to concentrate all the time by keeping an eye on the control panel.

To help me know when the trams are approaching the stations, there are yellow paint markers on the drum and the cable. When the marks meet, I know the tram is approaching Victoria Station so I cut off the motor and apply the drum brake to bring the tram to a gentle stop.

I am the winchman facing upwards. I too watch out for signals on my control panel but I also have a television monitor so I can see the trams on part of the tracks.

The attendants and I have to keep a special look out on the upper section because the track goes over an open hillside. The track is not fenced off and can be crossed by the public and animals. The cables and the rollers they rest on are on the surface and not hidden under the road as on the lower track.

The attendants also have to check the points levers which you can see in cages on the track.The levers have to be in the correct position before the trams can continue. The numbers on the levers are the numbers of the trams.

There is another difference between the upper section and the lower section. On the lower section there are two cables – one cable from the drums to each tram.

On the upper section there are three cables – one cable from the drums to each tram and another cable which connects the trams to each other. This cable goes around a return sheave or pulley at the summit station which means that the tram coming down pulls the tram coming up.

Sometimes, towards the end of the day, more people want to come down from the summit station that want to go up from Halfway Station. This means that the tram coming down is much heavier than the one going up. I check with the attendant on the numbers of passengers and if he has more than those going up I instruct him to apply the brakes on his tram as he comes down. He does this by turning a brake wheel on the front of the tram. If he did not then the descending tram would go faster than the drum and the cable would become slack and difficult to control.

You will see me at the front of each tram. Some people think I am a driver. This is not quite true because the tram has no engine, no gears, no accelerator and no power on board to help to climb the steep tram line.

I am the eyes of the man who controls the motor in the engine house. He cannot see the trams as they go up and down. I tell him when to start the motor, when to slow down and when to stop. I have a control panel that sends signals to the engine house which tells the winchman what I want him to do.

When all the passengers are on board at Victoria Station I insert the key into the control panel. I press the ready button, the winchman sets the motor in motion and up we go, climbing steeply up Old Road. This is a public road so I have to keep an eye out for people and cars. Cars are not supposed to use this road when the trams are running but I have to be careful just the same.

At the top of Old Road at a place called ‘Black Gate’ another public road crosses the track. There are traffic lights here to control traffic at the crossroad. The tram is not expected to stop here because it has priority over other traffic – which means all other traffic has to stop when the tram crosses.

Safety on the Tramway

Safety and security are very important to the Great Orme Tramway, so you can enjoy your trip without a worry.

Our operations meet rigorous internal and regulatory standards. The tramcars, rails and systems are regularly inspected and serviced, and the staff are highly trained.

The trams do not travel above 4 miles per hour, up or down. The tram staff are in constant and direct contact with each other. If an issue were to arise, the winchmen and attendants are able to signal that the tram needs to stop. The brakes are applied, bringing the tramcar to a full stop. In the event that the cable hauling the tramcar were to malfunction, the tramcars are also equipped with automatic emergency breaks. These brakes stop a tramcar within a metre.

There are also a number of steps that visitors can take to ensure a safe journey. These include:

  • Waiting in an orderly queue before the tramcar arrives
  • Taking care when boarding and exiting the tramcar – if you
    have limited mobility, we will be happy to assist you
  • Remaining seated while the tramcar is in motion
  • Keeping your hands and head inside the tramcar at all times
  • Dressing appropriately for the weather conditions as the tramcars do not have windows