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Transport Memories and How the Trams Came Back to London

John Gent, 15th May 2006

John began by reminiscing about seeing open-top trams on the Crystal Palace route. Aged 4 he remembered the tram to trolleybus conversion. He recalled that children travelled free on trams and trolleybuses up to the age of 5, whereas the age for the buses was only 3. Later he recalls holidays with his Aunt in Leeds in the Roundhay area, and memories of attractive blue trams. On returning to London he remembers seeing a blue tram which he assumed had come from Leeds. In reality he had seen former LCC number 1 'Bluebird'. His home was near the local Croydon route 42 which he used regularly. In 1945 he was fortunate enough to see Southampton trams on a family visit. He served in the Royal Air Force from 1950 to 1952 and rose to the rank of Corporal. Fortunately he was on leave on the occasion of the last Croydon trams on 7th April 1951 and managed to cycle in front of the last tram from Purley to Thornton Heath Pond.

On leaving the RAF he joined London Transport in 1952 as a clerk, which proved to be a shock to his system, having to start at the bottom after having authority in the services. In the same year he joined the Institute of Transport in1957 and was able to take part in a visit to Barcelona where he managed a ride on one of their primitive double deck trams.

In the 1970’s John was employed as an Executive Assistant in Bus Operations. During an Institute of Transport visit to Canada in 1971 he was impressed with the transport interchanges in Toronto between the Subway and Trams and Buses. This was later to influence his input into the design of London Transport interchanges at Walthamstow, West Croydon and Harrow.

Subsequently he was appointed as principal Planning Assistant, with Tim Runnacles as his assistant. As part of his duties he had responsibility for the London Docklands report and wanted to include a mention of the possible use of Light Rail but this was refused. In 1980 he was appointed Planning Liaison Officer and worked on Interchanges for UITP, together with Ralph Bennett and Curt Elmburg, which involved visits to Stockholm and Gothenburg.

In 1984 he worked for the BR/LT Liaison Group under Bob Dorey. He was involved in producing a Service Capacity Report that showed that the Underground could not handle the extra traffic if Marylebone was closed. In 1982 he was sent to Calcutta with London Transport International consultancy. He was involved with production of the report 'Light Rail for London' for the BR/LT Liaison Group which had the blessing of Tony Ridley, and identified routes for further study. This resulted in the Croydon Area Light Rail Study in 1990 by MVA which was underway at the time of John’s retirement.

This interesting talk was followed by a lively question and answer session.

John Laker, 20/5/06

London Area – 15th May 2006

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