Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 149,675 pages of information and 235,472 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

William Acheson Traill

From Graces Guide

William Acheson Traill (1844-1933), (also named as William Antony Traill in Engineering) the founder and managing director of the Giant's Causeway Electric Tramway

1844 Born at Ballylough, in County Antrim

Educated at private schools and graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in Engineering in 1865 and a Masters in 1873.

1868 Joined the Geological Survey of Ireland, becoming an expert on water supply.

1881 With his brother Anthony he founded the Portrush, Bushmills, and Giant's Causeway Railway and Tramway Company. This operated the world's first electrical railway, and was funded by capital raised from friends and investors including Sir Walter Siemens and Lord Kelvin. Traill devised and patented a conduit system of burying the live rail in a pipe with electrical contact. The expected goods trade never took off, and the line remained until its closure 1949 as a summer tourist railway.

In February 1887 he ran in a by-election in North Antrim as an Independent Unionist, coming in third.

He married three times, and met his third wife, Nora Westwood, in 1895 when he rescued her from drowning.

1933 July 5th. Died

In 1990, the Northern Bank issued a banknote bearing a portrait of Traill.

1933 Obituary[1]


Mr. William Antony Traill, whose death occurred at Rockhaven, Portstewart, on Thursday, July 6, at the advanced age of 89, was mainly responsible for the construction of the Giants Causeway Electric Tramways, the jubilee of the opening of which has been arranged for September next. This tramway, which is eight miles long, was one of the very earliest in the world to be operated electrically, and was probably the first to obtain its supply of energy from water power.

Mr. Traill was educated at private schools and at Trinity College, Dublin, from which he graduated in 1865 and obtained the degree of Master of Engineering in 1873. In 1868 he joined the Geological Survey of Ireland, but resigned his connection with that body in 1881. The idea of constructing a tramway to the Giants Causeway was Traill’s alone, though it received the support of William Siemens. Its fruition was only achieved in the face of numerous difficulties. Two special Acts of Parliament had to be obtained in spite of bitter local opposition, and the thoroughfare from Portrush to Bushmills had to be widened in order to allow the rails to be laid on a raised pathway alongside it. The fall originally used for supplying power was known as Salmon’s Leap, the head available being 27 ft., and two turbines which developed about 100 h.p. were installed to drive the dynamos through a complicated arrangement of gearing and belts. As, however, there was some delay in getting possession of this waterfall, the railway was operated for a short time from steam plant installed in the carriage shed at Portrush. Energy was transmitted to the cars through a T-section iron rail which was supported on wooden posts some 18 in. high placed between the running rails and the fence. This rail was insulated at first with rubber and slate, and afterwards with porcelain clips, and gaps had to be left at some 60 places to allow access to the fields. These gaps were spanned by underground cables which, in those days, were not easy to make, and were constantly breaking down. Difficulties were also experienced in obtaining a suitable collector, and finally a double elliptical steel spring, 4 in. wide, was designed by Mr. Traill for the purpose. It was, however, at best a crude device, and was replaced by the overhead trolley system in 1900.

In 1884, Mr. Traill, who was still chairman and engineer of the Giants Causeway Company at the time of his death, patented an underground or conduit system for operating electric tramways, which was afterwards adopted in a modified form in London many years later. He was a member of the General Council of the British Association."

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