Thursday 30 June 2011

In memory of the trolley bus

A Brighton Trolley bus at Fiveways

50 years ago today the last Brighton trolley bus ran its last journey back to the depot in Lewes Road; unhitched its poles and sat waiting for the scrapman. With that, the dismantling of the extensive infrastructure of overhead lines was set to begin. It is remarkable that 50 years on many of us still look back on the trolleybus era as embodying something  highly desirable, a "modern" & efficient form of city transport, yet regrettably consigned to the past like the moon-landings. 

Anyone who has ever travelled in these excellent vehicles will remember the quiet, vibration-free ride they provided.  Their smooth powerful acceleration away from stops, even up hills such as Elm Grove, was such that passengers could feel themselves being pressed back into their seats. This is not a sensation one is familiar with even on the most modern of diesel buses. Trolley buses  were clean and efficient and transferred all air pollution to the power station so that, if still in use today, they would gradually become greener concomitant with the means of energy production.

Trolleybuses were scrapped because with dropping passenger numbers they had begun operating at a loss. They were also said to lack flexibility as there was a limit to the number of buses you could have operating on the same route at the same time. One wonders however if the system might have been rejuvenated if, by some quirk of history, the overhead line system had been preserved for a few decades. The modern preoccupation with sustainability and pollution control could have provided just the incentive to look again at the trolleybus; and to design a modern version incorporating similar technical innovations to those used in hybrid vehicles.

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