110 years of Hong Kong Trams in photos
Here’s how their appearance has changed over the years:
A. Single-decker (1st Generation) [1904-c.1913]
The public service started in 1904, running these single-decker trams:
B. Double-decker, open upper deck (2nd Generation) [1911-c.1914]
Hong Kong Tramways (HKT)  : “Owing to strong passenger demand, the first double-deck tramcar was introduced in 1912. The tramcar was open-top with garden seats design.”
HKT says 1912, but this newspaper article from June 1911 shows they started running earlier:
New Tram Cars.
The new low level tramcars, double deckers, made their usual run yesterday. The travelling public are taking a keen interest in this innovation of the Tram Company. 
This photo catches old and new passing each other:
C. Double-decker, open upper deck with canvas roof (3rd Generation) [1913-c.1924]
HKT  : “1913 – The open-top upper deck was not popular during rainy weather. Light canvas roof covers were then added. This kind of tram was categorized as the third-generation tram.”
This letter to the editor in 1921 says the canvas roof wasn’t much of an improvement:
Judge, therefore, of my ecstasy when ariving aloft I found all the seating accommodation thoughtfully moistened in order to secure a grateful coolth to the punishable part of one’s anatomy, and the canvas awning, so carefully made flat, bulging with refreshing liquid that, percolating through, made one long for the society of your talented contributor, Adversarius, who, above all men, appears alone competent to descant faithfully on the charms of a saturated epidermis. 
He’d have to wait another two years for protection of his punishable parts…
D. Double-decker, open upper deck with wooden roof (3rd Generation) [1923-c.1926]
HKT  : “1923 – tramcars were fitted with permanent wooden roofs and roll-down blinds.”
To identify which type of roof is shown in a photo, the wooden roof is darker and has a vertical end, while the canvas roof was light-coloured and ended with a sloping section.
E. Double-decker, enclosed upper deck (4th Generation) [1925-c.1951]
HKT  : “1925 – Newly designed tramcars with fully enclosed upper-deck were in service. The new tramcars were improved further by giving more rooms for the passengers and the upper deck carried first class passengers while the lower deck carried the third class passengers. This kind of tram was categorized as the fourth-generation tram.”
Old and new again, passing over the Bowrington Canal.
And a closer view of the 4th-generation tram.
Look at the side of the tram, and just above the lower-deck windows you can see a horizontal lip along the length of the tram, dipping slightly at either end. It marks the edge of the roof of the original single-decker tram that these later trams were based on.
F. Double-decker (5th Generation) [1950-c.1986]
HKT  : “1950 – Hong Kong Tramways had undertaken extensive re-designing and started building its own trams. The appearance of the tram body was similar to the fourth-generation but streamlined and the tram no. 120 is still in service today. This kind of tram was categorized as the fifth-generation tram.”
The “lip” is gone, and there are now flat panels along the sides of both decks. Also note that the roof is flat, as that will change with #H below.
G. Single-decker trailer [1965-1982]
HKT  : “1965 – Due to passenger demand, single deck trailer was introduced.” and “1982 – Trailers and the conductor system were abolished.”
H. Double-decker (6th Generation) [1986-????]
HKT  : “1986 – Tram cabin was re-designed with a new look and this kind of tram was categorized as the sixth-generation tram.”
An easy way to tell these from the fifth-generation tram is to look at the roof. The HKT website again: “The resistor box at the rear of the lower deck was relocated to the rooftop of the front of the tram.” It’s the box on the roof marked with the number of the tram, “109” in this case.
I. Double-decker (Millenium) [2000-????]
HKT  : “Hong Kong Tramways launched the “Millennium” new tram on October 24, 2000.”
They have a modern look that is quite different from earlier models. Too different it seems, as the latest models have returned to their traditional appearance.
J. Double-decker (7th Generation) [2011- ]
HKT  : “2011 – Hong Kong Tramways launched the seventh-generation tram on November 28, 2011. It is a combination of modern interior design with traditional tram body exterior. The face-lift allows tram’s iconic image to be maintained.”
Differences in appearance from the sixth-generation trams include:
- From the front: Illuminated LED destination panels
- From the side: Full-height doors on entrances
If we have any tram experts reading, I need your help. I’d like to know the years that each type of tram was in service, then we can use this page to help date any old photo that shows a tram.
The HKT website tells us when a tram type started service, but can you help identify when it went out of service?
eg we know the first single-decker tram started running in 1904, but when did the last one go out of service? I’ve set the dates as “[1904-c.1913]“, guessing that all the single-deck trams had been converted to double-deckers within a year of the first double-decker being introduced.
It may well have taken longer, and in some cases, (eg adding canvas roofs), could have been quicker. If you can give any more accurate “out of service” dates, please leave a comment below. Any other corrections also welcome, as are additional photos of old trams.
- The Hong Kong Tramways website has a good history of the service on their “Milestones” page: http://www.hktramways.com/en/copinfo/milestones.html
- Article on page 4 of The Hong Kong Telegraph, 24th June 1911.
- Extract from letter on page 4 of The China Mail, 25th May 1921.
Where I’ve looked:
- I’ve searched the local newspapers for articles with the word “tram” from 1910-1922 inclusive.
- The book “Early Hong kong Transport” by Cheng Po-Hung (English text).
- HKT website.