Dolter System in Consideration.

Trams and the new Dolter Surface Stud Contact System

In Consideration.

Hastings being the last to adopt a stud system.


At the Swansea Town Hall, some three months ago, an exhibition of the Dolter Surface Contact Tramway system was given by means of the same model which was shown in Hastings a short time ago. Much interest was taken in the system by the Swansea Corporation, who were very desirous of discontinuing the use of overhead wires in their town.


Although they have in use at Swansea at the present time the trolley system in some parts of the town, yet for their extensions the Corporation have determined to have the Surface Contact System.  They, being greatly interested by the model, and the description of the working of the line, by Mr Fricker, and Mr H. Lancaster (of Hastings) it was decided that a large deputation should go to Paris, and inspect the line on the spot, and also obtain all possible information from the authorities, independently of the Dolter Engineers.  Amongst the deputation were several of the principal Councillors interested in electrical matters, the Borough Surveyor, and Mr C.A. Prussman, electrical engineer to the Swansea Corporation.  They were met in Paris by the inventor of the system, Mons. Dolter, and also by two of the Directors of the Dolter Company, Mons. Boinet and Mr J. Ormstein.  The deputation was received at the Hotel de Ville by the President of the Municipality of the City of Paris, Mons. Louis Marserolle, who would give the deputation the benefit of his independent advice.  The appointment of Mons. Marserolle as Consulting Engineer to the City of Swansea was


by the Dolter Company, and the deputation, having their own interpreter, were able to obtain all possible information and advice from Mons. Marserolle and other engineers whom they interviewed, absolutely independent of the Dolter Company.

The Dolter Surface Contact Tramway runs from Porte Maillot to the Longchamps and St. Cloud Racecourse.  Very briefly described, the system consists in a car equipped with a skate, consisting of two pieces of flexible iron joined in such a way as to take all curves and adapt itself to irregularities of the road.  It obtains its motive power by collecting sufficient electricity to propel the car at the rate of from twenty to thirty miles an hour, from small studs in the centre of the track, every 15feet apart.  These studs present no obstructions what-so-ever in the roadway, and in point of fact, at the time of the visit of the Swansea Corporation were practically invisible.  A very interesting feature of the Dolter System is that it has a safety skate both before and after the active skate, which, in the event of a stud being left electrified, would blow the fuse in the stud box, and for the time being, cut that stud out of the system which, however, would not cause the least delay in the traffic.



The line was visited by the deputation and their engineer in a downpour of rain.  As by the bridge of Surrennes the line is below the level of the river, many of the studs were under water, and the whole line was covered with mud.  In spite of this, however, the system was found to be working excellently, three cars being run down as a train, and the Engineers were subjected to a rigid cross-examination by the deputation.  Mons, Marserolle stated that there had never been accidents on the line through the Dolter System also that where the Surface Contact was wanted he certainly recommended the Dolter.  Also at the same time an official letter was presented for the Mayor of Swansea from the City of Paris, informing him through their Engineer, Mons. J. Forestier, that during the time the System Dolter had been working on the Bois de Boulogne there were no accidents, either to people or to horses, caused by the presence of the Dolter studs.

At the request of Mr Prussman, other studs were taken out and examined, the inspections showing that they were free from damp and impervious to water.  They were rendered electrically alive by blocking up the mechanism, and a car was driven over, when the safety skate instantly blew the fuse and put the studs out of service.  It might also be mentioned that Mr. Prussman on his own initiative, consulted another eminent engineer, Mons, Dieudonne, who strongly recommended the system.  The result of the inspection by the deputation has been that they


On their return to Swansea and that a price is now being given for laying it in the town.


The System Dolter particularly recommends itself to Borough Surveyors, insomuch as there is very small disturbance of the roadway, and where once laid the system can always be seen to without disturbing the permanent way.  Studs can be taken out in half-a-minute, and replaced equally as quickly.  The laboratory of Mons. Dolter which is extremely interesting, was visited by the Engineers, and the Borough Surveyor, one enthusiastic Councillor leaving it on record that it was one of the most interesting and happy days of his life.

The System Dolter has been reported on favourably by the Corporation of Torquay, and also has been examined by Mr Murphy, the engineer to the Hastings Tramway Company.  It is interesting to note that the Dolter Surface Contact system is adopted by the Board of Trade in France, after being in work both on an experimental and also on a practical line, carrying a very heavy traffic.

The English rights of the Dolter Company were purchased this year by an English Company, who are now introducing it, and at the present time they have estimates before four or five towns.  Although the Dolter System is not so cheap as the overhead systems yet it possesses very great advantages, not only from an aesthetic point of view, in doing away with unsightly obstructions and overhead wires, but also from the point of view of the small disturbance to the roadway, and the ease with which the system is generally maintained.  Another advantage is that it can be used in conjunction with the overhead system.  In Paris one can go from the overhead wire system to the Surface Contact System without stoppage of cars.

The offices of Dolter Electric Traction Limited

were at 3 and 4, Great Winchester Street, London.


Article taken from a local newspaper dated 03 January 1903 in relation to adopting the new invention of the ‘Dolter Surface Contact System’ to power the trams instead of the overhead wires, which were to cause great concern to all those living on the Front-Line in Hastings. This system was eventually adopted, but only for the Front-Line as the rest of the town was equipped with the overhead wires, eventually, the Sea-Front stud system failed to the extent that there was no other alternative other than to erect poles and wires, all to the disgust and objections of the local residents yet again, but this time round the Tramway Corporation won the day unanimously.  Obviously, this system now became cheaper in maintaining the overhead wires than underground complicated magnetic studs that popped up when a car passed over them and supposingly when finish should have fallen below the surface when the safety skate passed over them, which many did not. The major factor here was salt water impregnating the sealed pots and started to corrode the moving parts.  The moving bell crank lever that operated the contact was made of iron, and only this would be attracted to a magnet being of a Ferris metal construction, if the unit was forged out of say brass these corrosion problems might not have happened, but no magnet would attract brass!

The overhead wire system main expense came with the collector shoes that made the electrical connection between the wire and the contact arm on the tram, replacing the carbon contact pieces that sat within the shoe was the main concern, as these had to be replaced quite frequently especially in the winter months when arcing took place due to the ice and wet conditions on the wires.  600 volts DC did cause quite a spark when trying to make contact with a powerful motor under the tram on an icy wire, especially when you were the first tram to operate in the mornings after a very cold night with freezing temperatures and ice build up on the wires and points, the arcing was to cause pits in the carbon surface making a positive contact nigh on impossible, in turn all this arcing would keep blowing the breaker in the drivers cab, and resetting the breakers would only result in them blowing out again under power to the traction motors.  There were many occasions when the conductor had to use a long pole to knock the ice off the overhead points before they would operate.  But on the whole, the overhead wire system no matter how ugly it was, proved to be the best running system for the trams and stayed with us up to 1959 when the system and the trolley buses were replaced by the diesel ‘Atlantian’ buses, but that’s yet again another story!

All the poles and wires were eventually taken down around the town apart from many wall plates to where strainer wires were attached that kept the wire system taught!  These can still be seen on many building around the town when you look up and see these cast iron plates bolted to walls, and now if still there painted over several times. Robertson Street, Queens Road and even High Street have some plates still secured to the walls of buildings.  The poles that supported the overhead wires were cut off at ground level with oxy-acetylene cutters and removed for scrap; it is interesting to note that these poles were filled with pea beach once erected to add strength to the cast iron pole. Many of the wires were removed at night by gangs on top wooden towers mounted on large wheels, there were several of these maintenance towers over the town, I can place seeing one at the Fishmarket, Harold Place, and Ore Village, there must have been many more! The stumps left from cutting were removed in time and paved over. The collection of wires must have brought the Council quite a bit of money in scrap value by the time the entire town was rid of the system, being copper construction there must have been many tons in weight by the time all was sold off along with all the precious metals that were used in spares for the trams in the depot, that we shall never know and always wonder to what happened to all that cash?