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. What is a funicular system? Allow us to explain…

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 ascending tram needs a lot of help. It is impossible for a heavy vehicle to climb such a steep slope and against gravity without a form of 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 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.

The Tramway is controlled from the engine house at the Halfway Station. When you visit here look out for the powerful electric motors, and for the drums and cables which are 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.

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 from the tram attendants the signals – start, slow and stop. Without these signals I could not operate motor and the cables because I cannot see the trams as they travel.

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 attendant of ascending and descending trams I take the brake off gently and set the motor in motion, I then proceed to slowly raise the speed.

I know I must slow the ascending tram down as soon as it approaches the traffic lights and the trackpoints but I must 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 we have yellow paint markers on the drum and the cable. When the marks meet then I know the tram is approaching Victoria Station and I can 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.

Both 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 at any point. The cables and the rollers on which they rest 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 – that makes two cables and also 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 he has 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 his 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 the Victoria Station I insert the key into the control panel. I press the ready button and 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 and eye out for people or 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

At the tramway we always strive to maintain a high level of safety so you can enjoy your trip without a worry. Safety of the tram passengers and those using public roads on or alongside where the tram is laid is very important to the operators of the Great Orme Tramway.

The equipment used on the tramway must always be of the highest quality, and there must always be ways of dealing with any emergency that may arise.

The Attendants are in direct contact with the Winchmen in the engine house by a signalling system of buttons and lights to start, slow and stop the trams anywhere on the track. The Attendants and Winchmen can also contact each other by phone. The Trackman continually checks the track and can contact the Winchman by radiotelephone in case the trams need to stop. The upper section trams have brakes which can be operated by the Attendant to slow the tram down.

The lower section trams have an automatic emergency brake which can stop a descending tram within a metre. The whole system is regularly inspected. The emergency brake on the lower section. What would happen if the cable snapped or the drawbar holding the cable should break? The trams do not Travel more than 4 miles an hour up or down. If the cable broke the trams would obviously go faster with nothing to hold them back.

HOWEVER, as soon as a tram goes 6 miles an hour the emergency brakes operate automatically. Four very heavy brake skids drop down from under the tram onto the concrete track. The brake skids stop the tram and also raise the wheels off the track. The tram cannot move up or down. Before each season starts this emergency brake is tested at the top of Killen’s Hill. The emergency brakes system works every time, so do not worry, you are perfectly safe on our tramway.