On This Day

The Day Myanmar’s First Steam Tram Began Operating in Yangon

By Wei Yan Aung 4 March 2020

YANGON—On this day 136 years ago, Myanmar’s first steam tram was introduced in downtown Yangon, a city whose transportation had until then been characterized by horse-drawn and ox-drawn carts. The launch of the tram service on March 4, 1884 opened a new chapter in transport for Myanmar.

The service was run by Messrs. J.W. Darwood & Co., and the route ran from the Strand Road to the southern gate of Shwedagon Pagoda through Chinatown. A year later, another line was opened from Chinatown westwards along Dalhousie Street (now Maha Bandoola Street) to its junction with the Strand Road, and eastwards from China Street along Dalhousie Street, up Sule Pagoda Road and along Montgomerie Street (now Bogyoke Aung San Road) to Pazundaung.

In 1886, the western line was extended to Williams Street in Thingangyun Township and a further line was established from Sule Pagoda along Dalhousie Street and down Judah Ezekiel Street (now Theinbyu Road) to the Strand.

A postcard of an electric tram at the Shwedagon tram terminus in the 1920s.

In its early days, the service was known as the “1 anna” tram, as its fare was fixed at an anna, a currency unit used in British India equal to one-sixteenth of a rupee.

Though the tram service was hailed as a modern convenience, there were also complaints, as passengers’ clothing was often covered in soot or burned by embers from the steam engines. The problem was so bad the municipality eventually had to take action against the tram service operator.

However, the sound of the tram’s bell ringing became a symbol of the development of public transportation in Yangon.

Following steam trams, rickshaws were introduced to Yangon in 1893, followed by hand carts in 1893-4 and public buses in 1913.

Steam trams served as public transportation in the former capital for nearly 57 years, eventually disappearing from the city’s streets after World War II. Some parts of the tram line can still be seen in Yangon today.

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