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Rescued French tram sheds light on Lyon’s transport history

Built by an American firm before being shipped to Lyon in 1898, the electric tram (which had first-class and second-class carriages) gave residents greater mobility

The restoration effort is now in its second decade Pic: Athaly / JC Thoos

A group of transport enthusiasts are working to restore one of their city’s first trams.

The Lyon tram, with first and second-class carriages, was found in a sad state at the back of a railway shed when the building was sold.

Xavier Vuillermoz was able to find it a better home, with help from his employer, transport firm Keolis-Lyon, and a local association Athaly has taken on the task of restoring it.

‘A long way to go’

“We started in 2011 and thought it would take a couple of years,” said Mr Vuillermoz. 

“In 2022, we are still at it, and have a long way to go!”

The main bodywork of the tram has been repaired and repainted. 

The second-class cabin, with wooden seats, has also been restored, except for the wood-panelled roof, which is currently being worked on.

Padded seats for the first-class cabin have been prepared and are ready to be installed.

Read more: Paris metro and tram seats transformed into slippers

Electric tram history

Six or seven enthusiasts gather at least once a month to work on the tram, number 439, which was built by US firm Brill and shipped to Lyon in 1898. 

Along with six other trams of the same make, it worked in the city until 1935. 

During that time it was lengthened and had new motors installed.

The other Brill trams had been destroyed by 1940, but 439 was kept as a shunting machine in the depot. 

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“Our original idea was to have the tram run on the streets of Lyon again, but it is the wrong size for the tracks we now have, so it will have to stay as a display,” said Mr Vuillermoz. 

“It is an important part of our heritage. Having electric trams was a huge step at the time and gave people mobility in the city, which they did not have before.”

The association is also restoring a small, cog-wheel electric locomotive, once used to take people up Lyon’s steep hills.

They hope to have it declared a historic monument, which will open the way for grants and donor tax breaks.

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