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The only working Kitson steam tram in the world


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In my spare time, when I'm not working or thinking about trains, I volunteer with the Tramway Historical Society at Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch either as a tram motorman (driver) or sometimes working on our collection of motor and trolley buses (which would be right up @JR 500系's alley... dare I tempt?😉). One of the biggest gems in our collection though is one of only three surviving Kitson-built steam tram engines anywhere in the world. What makes ours so special is that it's the only standard gauge (1435mm) example left, and it's also the only one that goes.




The Christchurch Tramway Company brought eight of these engines, five in 1879 and the remaining three in 1881 - including our engine. For some reason one was scrapped in 1893 when its original boiler gave out - we have no idea why it wasn't given a new boiler like its sisters - but the remaining seven lasted until electrification of the tramway network by the Christchurch Transport Board in 1905. From then on, they spent time in track construction and maintenance as well as shunting duties, but eventually six of the seven would be scrapped with the first to go in 1925 and the last two in 1952. The last one, No. 7 or 'Kitty' as we affectionately call her, was put aside for preservation and later passed to the THS after an abortive attempt to build a transport museum in eastern Christchurch failed.


The engine itself was returned to service in October after a five-year overhaul during which the worn-out boiler (built in 1928) was replaced with another of similar vintage which had been rebuilt and originally come from sister No. 6 which had been broken up in 1952. The valves and valve gear were also reset which has made a huge difference to this engine as it doesn't have the weird 'double-chuff' sound, or, as one former Society president called it, the 'shagged duck' sound. It now runs and sounds much sweeter than it did before!


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No. 7 holds a special place in my heart, not only because I've conducted behind her on any number of occasions, but because she's also the first steam locomotive I've ever driven IRL which happened in 2016 during a Volunteer Drive event. I then learned the hard way just how powerful steam is, because giving the Kitson too much steam from the combined regulator-brake handle makes her take off like a little rocket! That earned me a stern rebuke from the tram's then-minder that it wasn't a racing car - I took that on board and did much better on the run back!


Regardless, she's a wonderful old engine. If you're ever in Christchurch, she's usually in steam on the first Sunday of each month for 'Ferrymead Alive' (not the marketing peoples' best, I know...) or occasionally for special events or charters.

And what of the other two Kitsons? They went to the three-foot gauge Portstewart Tramway, one in 1882 and the other in 1897. They're both now permanently 'stuffed and mounted' in museums, 1882-built No. 1 is in the Streetlife Museum of Transport in Hull, while 1897-built No. 2 is in the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum in Cultra, Northern Ireland.



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