The Trams of Shenyang - Part 1/3: 1800s to 1920s
When Shenyang opened its new tramway service throughout Hunnan in 2013, I assumed it was a first. In fact, these trams are actually the fourth chapter in Shenyang’s hundred year history with trams.
Interested to learn more, I set out to find as much as I could about the history of trams in Shenyang. Resources being limited, and largely in Chinese, I have done the best I can to provide as thorough a history as possible.
The Trams of Shenyang - 1800s to 1920s
Charles W. Gravelle
Important Note: During this period, Shenyang was commonly known by two different names: the locally used Fengtian [奉天] and more commonly known Mukden. Throughout this series, historic Shenyang will be referred to as Mukden.
The earliest horse drawn trams for passenger traffic were created in Wales during the early 1800s. These trams ran along rail tracks originally designed to transport cargo and mineral trains known as Dandy Wagons. It took thirty more years for horse trams to appear in North America; first operating in New York in 1832, then in Toronto by 1861.
In the late 19th Century, Japan was reaching the height of its early industrial expansionist era. Tokyo had already adopted horse tram technology in 1887, and Japanese industry was eager to get a foothold developing similar projects abroad. Japan was already becoming heavily invested in Northeast of China during this time, and Mukden was of great strategic and industrial importance to the Japanese. As such, Mukden’s early development was to be very heavily influenced by Japan.
In 1907, a Japanese consortium began to develop a horse tramway in Mukden, with Mukden Station (Shenyang Zhan) as the main transportation hub. By 1908, the line was over 4.03 kilometers long and extended from as far west as Mukden Station, all the way east to the Imperial Palace (Gugong, beside present day Zhongjie).
Known as “Horse Iron” [马铁 – mǎtiě], the shiny black carriages, each capable of holding forty passengers, were very stylish for their time. They had relatively spacious compartments on either side of the carriage's four main doors. Each carriage had large windows, wooden bench seats, and ring rope handrails. The tram drivers wore uniforms composed of narrow black hats, stylish Western style pants, and a red tasseled whip. The drivers themselves were expected to be young and strong, standing no shorter than 1.7 meters tall. The horses, two per carriage, were kept healthy and well groomed at all times. So admired were the trams that people likened the trams to the wealthy and their private carriages.
Despite the attempt to maintain a luxurious appearance, ticket prices were reasonably low and the service was, therefore, very popular. Passenger volume began to increase to the point that the carriages had to be expanded; three horses were eventually needed to handle the weight of the carriages. Over a period of nine years, from 1908 to 1916, horse trams moved over 12 million passengers across Mukden, with each carriage on the line making approximately 160 trips per day. The total profit during these nine years was just north of 23 million yuan (a huge sum for the era).
The first death knells of the horse tramway came about in 1922. Although passenger volume in Mukden was the highest of any city in the northeast, the carriage speed and capacity had been unable to keep up with growing demans. Other major municipalities had already taken down their systems in favor of more modern electric trams. Tokyo, for instance, replaced its fleet in 1903, sending most of their equipment to keep Mukden’s fleet running. Furthermore, residents were becoming frustrated with the increasingly slow and unreliable service. The combined weight of the carriages, and the regular trotting of the horses, had created deep grooves in the road that would quickly flood and cause major traffic issues with each rain. Eventually the Mukden chief of police asked municipal government authorities to abolish the horse drawn tramway.
The request was approved and on January 30, 1924, after only eighteen years of operation, the Mukden Municipal Office dismantled the entire network. In September of the same year, a new company was formed that took over the rights to lay rail throughout the city. By October 1925, Shenyang would enter the age of electric trams.
Thus concludes the first of a three part series on the trams of Shenyang. The next installment follows the rise of electric trams through the 1920s to the 1940s.
Photos, facts, and dates were compiled from the following sources: