Cardiff's last Trolleybuses

3 years ago Thu 9th Jan 2020

50 years after the final trolleybus ran in Cardiff, we look back at their history in our capital city.

The decision to bring trolleybuses to Cardiff was voted on by the Council on 8 May 1939 as a way of converting the remaining tram routes.  Unfortunately, their introduction was severely delayed by the war and it wasn’t until St David’s Day on 1942 that the first trolleybuses replaced trams on the Wood Street to Clarence Road route.  They were later extended to Llandaff Fields from 8 November of the same year.  Buses were built to pre-war standard although the amount of wood was restricted and the cost of equipment increased by 10% due to the War.

First Trolleybus image

Single deck trolleybuses were required due to low bridges in Cardiff, particularly to Cardiff Bay or Tiger Bay as it was known then.  A shortage of new trolleybuses after the war caused the purchase of seven second hand 1930 English Electric trolleybuses from Pontypridd to convert the Monument to Pier Head tram route.  They were nicknamed Doodlebugs due to their whining noise. 

Doodlebug image

Cardiff Corporation Transport introduced a ‘pay as you enter’ system in the 1940’s and the new Cardiff designed trolleybuses from 1948 included two staircases, a front sliding exit door and a seat on the rear platform for the conductor to ensure fares were paid.

Trolleybuses were decorated and illuminated for Christmas and special occasions.  The image below shows trolleybus 208 decorated to celebrate Cardiff’s 50th anniversary as a City in 1955.

Golden Jubilee image

Although trolleybuses took their electrical power from overhead lines, they were also equipped with batteries, and could travel a short distance off the wires.  This was handy during road improvements.  Any changes to roads or new routes required the installation of new wiring for trolleybuses and test runs.  On 8 May 1955, the last trolleybus extension was made to Grand Avenue. 

trolleybus in snow

The decision to gradually replace trolleybuses with motorbuses was taken in 1961.  Trolleybuses were regarded as inflexible and slow at junctions.  Longer motorbuses with more seats were used to replace them.

Cardiff’s trolleybuses, like the trams, lasted longer because of late delivery of new buses.  They finally stopped running on 3 December 1969 but reappeared for a planned farewell in January 1970. 

On Friday and Saturday 9/10 January a special service between the city centre and Victoria Park was provided using all serviceable trolleybuses, and on Sunday the 11 January trolleybuses 215, 262 and 277 ran pre-booked tours over the remaining system.  Trolleybuse 262 was scheduled to be the last to Ely, but on its return journey 215 was seen heading to Ely.  262 turned around and headed back to Ely so as not to disappoint its customers. 

50 years on, two of Cardiff’s trolleybuses are being restored locally by the Cardiff & South Wales Trolleybus Project.  Take a look at Cardiff & South Wales Trolleybus Project's Facebook page, or visit their website to find out more.

last trolleybus image

Photo credit:  Cardiff & South Wales Trolleybus Project

Thanks to Cardiff & South Wales Trolleybus Project for their support to produce this article.  Extracts also taken from All Aboard!  100 Years of Trams, Trolleys and Buses in Cardiff written by Roger Davies