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On this page ... From Stagecoach to Metro, page bottom (LNER Locomotive No.61654 named 'Sunderland').

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The following text has been kindly written for the site by Len Charlton. Who has provided the images also, many of which are visible in a larger size with a click of your mouse.

Some time ago, an old friend and I were discussing the long gone Sunderland to Durham railway. He had been brought up on a farm near Herrington village and he told me that his father could recall, as a young man, frequently visiting Newcastle on business from the farm. He would get up early, saddle his horse and ride some two miles to Penshaw railway station. There where he would stable the horse and catch a local train to Newcastle. It could well be that he finished his journey on an electric tram before returning the same way that evening. His story painted a most vivid picture of life in the last days of England's old rural economy which had in truth started to vanish in the late 1700s.

In those days, the  industries in town that were attracting the rural population from the countryside were local and frequently quite small. Sunderland's shipbuilding, lime and coal trades were typical but with the coming of the steam age and heavy engineering in the 1850s, more expertise was required and a widespread demand arose for technical skills both in decision making and development. People like Watt, Trevithick, Brunel and the Stephensons were rare and in continual demand and they and their staff had to move both round the country and overseas to develop systems or inspect some new technique. Many of these new ideas were breeding in the mining industry and shipyards, making Sunderland a great attraction. The town as a port was used to strangers coming and going and to cater for this, coaching inns first developed in the prosperous and busy High Street East. The largest, The Golden Lion at No 38 High Street East, which had been the home of the wealthy Tempest family ran its own stables & brewery with accommodation to match. Further up-river the brand new Wearmouth Bridge (here & following), opened in 1796, was part of the new town round Fawcett Street and more inns were soon appearing including the well known 'Peacock' on the corner of Crowtree Road and High Street West. The arrival of a stagecoach was always watched with great interest but in the cholera epidemic of 1831 many kept away, worried they might catch or spread the plague.

For more local travel, horse carriages developed in many forms & in 1833 a Hackney Cab service was started in Sunderland, favourite parking spots being by the Museum or on Villette Road.


More elegant carriages could be hired or, for the wealthy, owned & run with uniformed footmen to drive in style to town for shopping or for business. At left, in 1885, we see Mr. Rutland (alias 'Signore Durland') arriving at his Star Music Hall in Sans Street with his staff waiting to welcome him.

A more robust form of travel might well be on an adapted farm wagon & in one four-wheel form they were fitted with benches for several passengers & known as 'brakes'. The early, c.1900, photograph below shows a well loaded brake leaving Wear Street for a group outing. Sometimes a single tradesman might run one or perhaps two different types of horse vehicle on a hire basis but for most people a ride of any sort was a special occasion. They usually walked around town & saved their pennies for the ferries.

Episodes from the written memoirs of a Thomas Peacock (born 1873) of Wrekenton, near Gateshead,  make interesting reading:-

'........My father and mother came to live with my grandmother at Eighton House where they had a General dealers shop. My father at that time had originated a twice daily bus service between Eighton Banks (Lambton Arms was the Engine (sic) at that time) and High Street Gateshead, near (the) Coach & Horses. The conductor being supplied with a bugle which he blew as the bus travelled from Eighton Banks to the north end of Wrekenton to let people know the bus was coming. At the age of seven years when William Elliot began as conductor he could not blow the trumpet and for a few mornings had (to) sit at (the) back end of the bus and sound the trumpet and on Saturdays I took the horse to St. Edmunds Church to help get the brake to the top of Sheriff Hill. One Saturday after getting the horse hooked on I went to have a drink of water at the fountain in the church wall. I then jumped on to the step of the brake and the woman inside the brake said I should not have drunk that water a(s) it came from the church yard and from that day for nearly sixty years I never drank cold water............... From about the year 1880 onward I regular went each morning to the Team Valley (the quarry on the the left side of Team Lane near Springwell Inn) with the horse to help each cart load of curb stone out onto the Team Lane bound for Sunderland. The horse had to be back to the yard for the brake and I to school at nine. At that time most of the horses in the village were engaged by Thomas Boiston, whose family now live at the Post Office at Wrekenton, to cart curb stone to Sunderland..........'

The first public horse-bus service, running to a time-table with pickup points, commenced ..

.. in London in 1829 when George Shillibeer started running two 'Omnibuses' between Paddington and Bank. He had coined the word for his heavy single deck vehicles using 3 horses abreast. They were well appointed and became so popular that seats or benches were later fitted on the roof. Some other cities started similar services but fully enclosed double-deck horse buses were never used in Britain. Any form of wheel braking was very rare and on steep hills skids had to be placed under wheels.


It proved an expensive business to run even a small fleet of omnibuses. To keep a full day schedule running, each three-horse bus required about 10 horses to allow for team changing & support, which meant that running 2 buses on each of 3 routes called for a stable of 60 horses. The earliest days of wagonways for coal transport had shown that running trucks on rails was much easier than running on road surfaces & this seemed a practical idea for omnibuses too. Experiments in France and U.S.A. had proved successful.

In 1831 John Stephenson, a New York carriage builder, became known as the father of the tramcar, in effect an omnibus on rails. He opened a shop on Broadway & joined forces with Abraham Bower - already running short-haul stage coaches in the city. In 1832 they designed new 'street cars' to run on rails laid along city streets.

In Britain there was general opposition to rails on town streets which rails could trip horses & damage wheels. But, the passing of the Tramways Act in 1870 gave Councils permission to lay such tracks. And Sunderland Corporation went ahead. In 1879 it started building lines over which a separate body, 'Sunderland Tramways Company Limited', ...

... started running horse trams between Monkwearmouth & Roker. This caused several confrontations with cabbies where tramlines replaced taxi ranks & the police had to restore order. Within two months the route had been extended over the bridge to Fawcett Street, Christ Church & the docks.
Five well sprung & hand braked two-horse trams started the service, two with upper decks. One of these upper deck trams is shown here at the Roker terminus.


It was a pure coincidence that this very same year (1879) the new railway station was opened adjoining Fawcett Street (a fine print of that station is next) & the adjacent railway bridge was completed.

Passenger train connections to Sunderland had actually started in 1835 when the 'Durham and Sunderland Railway Company' opened a line to carry freight & passengers to and from a station opened on the Town Moor near the new South Docks. The line ran past Seaham to Shincliffe, near Durham, with many stops. Any passenger wanting to go the whole distance needed to be of hardy stock, as the journey took many hours & involved several changes between locomotive pulled sections & 'cable pulled' hilly sections, Although gradients were gradually reduced & more powerful locomotives were developed to handle the cable section gradients, there was a real danger of brake failure on the steeper sections. Runaway trains, in fact, killed many passengers. New stations opened at Burdon Road & Hendon while, to the north of the river, a line from Gateshead (Brandling Junction) & South Shields opened in 1839, but at that time it ended at Monkwearmouth.

To the locals, the year 1879 must have seemed a new world, with a railway bridge across the river & trains running both north & south to connect to the old lines from the magnificent new railway station right in the town center. It was a fine Victorian/Gothic building with a clock tower & a covered spacious forecourt for carriages & cabs adjacent to the brand new tram network (a fine image of that new railway station is above).

Perhaps the sight of horse trams on Wearmouth Bridge with steam trains running past on the new railway bridge alongside, swayed a decision to experiment with steam trams. Trials began in 1880 with three borrowed tram locomotives.

A number of towns were trying these small locomotives which were generally designed as self contained units to pull one or two double deck carriages. They were supposed to 'consume their own smoke' & had fitted skirts to enclose the wheels & piston rods. They were usually slab-sided utilitarian boxes but the photo of one pulling two large double deck carriages at Roker shows a small, very elegant, locomotive in smart livery.

This steam 'tram train' photographed at Roker must have looked fine crossing Wearmouth Bridge but it is difficult to imagine it threading its way through the narrow streets & sharp corners in the town centre. Indeed gradients on both Southwick Road & Hylton Road proved to be too much for it. The locomotives were both underpowered & unreliable & the whole idea was scrapped within the year. However the horse trams were enormously popular & extensions were built westwards along Southwick Road to the village terminus & up Holmeside to New Durham Road in 1881. As housing along these new routes increased, so did passenger demand, & by 1894 there were 33 horse trams in use. But with a stable of over 330 horses & related expenses of food as well as street cleaning, operational costs were very high.

Old photos show many passengers wearing top hats. The high ticket prices certainly restricted passenger numbers.

Experiments with electric traction had proved successful & by 1885 Blackpool was running the first electric street tramway in Britain.  


 For Sunderland, the existing routes needed further extension & with steam proving impractical, electricity was now clearly the way forward. A massive undertaking! Conversion of old stock was unrealistic so a completely new electric tram fleet would be required plus necessary sub-stations, cables & overhead wires to be planned & installed. There was only one answer. The Corporation obtained authority to operate its own tram system & purchased the old tramway company in 1900.

The first electric tram route, from Fawcett Street to Roker, was opened in great ceremony on Aug. 15, 1900, (see left & here), a glorious summer's day, top hats & garlands of flowers everywhere. And a few summer dresses!

The old horse trams were completely replaced by the new electric trams the following year. Work then started on extensions to Grangetown, Fulwell & Seaburn (then called Sea Lane) & a large new loop called 'The Circle' was built. This ran from the spectacular station North End, up High Street past Millfield railway station & along Hylton Road & Kayll Road before returning down Chester Road to join the New Durham Road line at the Royalty. By 1904 the work was completed and the Corporation was running 7 single-deck trams & 43 open top double-deck trams over this network, a rate of progress which by any modern standards seems impossible.

Sunderland was very proud of its electric trams as an advert for 'Jopling and Tuer' illustrates. This long established firm of drapers at 175 High Street East had been bought out by Hedley and Swan in 1891 and after a major expansion and installation of electric lighting went to press with this poster (at right). Perhaps they hoped to persuade the Corporation to build a tram line down High Street East but in fact this was never done and the line to the docks was routed via Villette Road and Hendon.

Over the next 10 years more and more trams were introduced to this first network. The Corporation had built two depots one at the Wheatsheaf corner in Monkweamouth, which was the main tram shed with the nearby offices, and the other being the workshops at Hylton Road.


Tramcars were basically wooden structures built on bought-in metal motor chassis' and much of the work was repairing or modifying the bodies. An open top car was no fun on a rainy winter's day particularly along the seafront.

WW1 brought its own problems and with men joining the forces, the first 'clippies' were taking over from the conductors (Jenny Newton, the first 'clippie' is at left below). Many people resented this and the clippies were often subject to abuse particularly from children free-riding on the back steps. A major set back in 1916 was a Zeppelin raid which hit the tram shed and left many trams wrecked including No. 10 (below right). And left 22 dead in the town.


The Circle route was always used as an open loop ending at the station north end. It had many narrow sections & sharp corners particularly at Vine Place where the west bound track ran through Park Lane & Olive & Mary Streets. Because these proved difficult for the Corporation's six double bogie cars, they were changed to 4 wheel cars at the Hylton Road Depot.

By 1922 most of the open tops had been roofed over retaining the existing stairs to open ends with a closed central saloon, including No. 12 (left).

This design dominated the streets before WW2 although some early oddities appeared such as a mobile workshop used for rail welding & a water street cleaner (below).

Outside of the town itself, horse transport continued to run, serving the rural areas.

One old inhabitant of Herrington recalled that in the early 1900s, traffic on Durham Road during the week was mainly farm carts and brewery drays but at weekends and market days 'it comes alive with horse-brakes carrying villagers from the outlying collieries into the town.'


There was clearly a demand for trams to the villages and Sunderland District Tramways opened in 1905 after several earlier proposals. Short of funds and experience, a ramshackle system of power supplies and tram tracks was set up with Houghton-le-Spring as the centre. In Sunderland, the line started at Grangetown adjacent to the Corporation tram terminus, ran south to Ryhope & then west to run along country lanes through Tunstall village to Silksworth, then on to East and West Herrington before turning south to Philadelphia where the District Tramway sheds were based. There were branches to Penshaw and Fencehouses while the main line continued through Newbottle to Houghton-le-Spring. 32 old double-deck trams of mixed design had been acquired, 16 imported from France, and it was with much public acclaim that the first tram opened the system on Jun. 10, 1905. It was only three days later when tram No. 8 ran out of control on Botcherby Bank outside of Silksworth. It careered down the steep hill, derailed and hit a stone wall crushing a boy to death and causing several serious injuries to people thrown from the open top deck. Doxford House, (originally Silksworth Hall), which was then occupied by one of the Doxford shipping brothers, was nearby and staff gave great assistance to the injured. The tram was repaired but so unpopular that it was stored for two years & then repainted as No. 31 before going back into service.

The following year, the route was extended to Hetton, ending up at Easington Lane & reaching a total of 14 miles of single track with 38 passing loops.

The old trams were of light construction & soon started to fall apart - since much of the line was in hilly terrain, there were continuing problems with track & power supplies, & to cope with snowfalls an extraordinary double cab 'snowbrush' was built with rotating brushes on the front. For 16 years the semi-bankrupt system continued and in 1921, Sunderland Corporation agreed to connect the two systems together at Grangetown to allow the District trams to start at Fawcett Street. Even then the writing was on the wall.

There had never really been sufficient custom and it was now apparent that the overheads of long tram tracks & power supplies running through country areas were just as costly as running horse stables had been 25 years earlier. With improving road surfaces, petrol engined, well-sprung buses were becoming both reliable & comfortable. There was no real alternative and the impoverished District Tramways abandoned its trams in 1925, sold them at knockdown values & established Sunderland District Transport [renamed Sunderland District Omnibus Company ('SDO')] to take over the village routes. Its early buses seem to have been dilapidated war-time relics judging from bus No. 2 (at left below), but they were soon to became renowned as extremely comfortable, indeed stylish, in Royal Blue livery with a gold SDO badge (at right below).


In the town itself, Sunderland Corporation was still expanding its tram lines. Indeed by 1929 the Durham Road line had reached the top of Humbledon Hill.
It was now also authorised to run buses & that same year the first delivery of 12 'Leyland Lion' single decker buses had been made, workmanlike but not as elegant as the SDO buses (left) on the country routes.

It was during this period that Park Lane was developed. Originally a country lane extending south from Holmeside into Mowbray Park the undeveloped area once used as a stone yard on the east side of the lane was merged into the old lane & cobbled to create a wide open expanse for bus parking. At first uncontrolled, marked bays soon appeared & then long distance 'Limited Stop' services found places. Park Lane remained uncovered but soon became a very busy central bus terminal adjacent to a tram stop.

Over the next 10 years Corporation buses opened up completely new routes while at the same time the existing tram lines were extended, Fulwell Road to Seaburn and Durham Road to Grindon Lane. During this period most towns were ..

.. abandoning trams & advantage was taken to select the best for conversion in the workshops which were also busy building brand new bodies to be fitted to bought-in chassis. One of these was No. 86 which was built in some secrecy in 1932. Clever design gave it exceptionally smooth running & it became known as 'The Ghost Tram' because it was so quiet (or perhaps because it was rarely seen).
This attribute seems to have attracted a fine band of worthy gentlemen (at right).


Another nick name was acquired by No. 61 which was fitted in 1934 with a very small top-deck saloon leaving the front and rear decks uncovered. This car (at left below) was aptly called 'The Icebox'. A rather later tram is at right.


The depot was always on call for accidents or derailments. Collisions were rare, however. One collision which comes to mind occurred as a result of a parked tram running away down Mile Bank on Durham Road.


Derailments rarely caused injury but created a serious electrical danger. When a tram derailed it was no longer 'earthed' through the rails & if the trolley or pantograph, (Webmaster: The frame device by which electrical contact was maintained to the overhead power line) remained connected to the power supply, the tram body could become 'live' with some 600 volts & passengers had to stay on board until the supply was broken.

The 'Circle' Tram (left), which appears to be shopping on Hylton Road for Mazda light bulbs, has been disconnected from the system & some form of earthing bar applied.

Streamlined cars with central access appeared in the mid 1930s, the largest of which, No. 99, carried 76 passengers. It is shown here, in 1935, outside the Wheatsheaf depot with an admiring crowd.

The Corporation bus routes were also thriving with sleek reliable vehicles - a far cry from the horse buses of old although what was claimed to be the very last urban horse bus was still running between Newcastle & Gateshead until 1931. Now even the trams themselves were becoming outdated, replaced in many towns by buses or trolley buses. Eventually, in 1938, the Corporation opened a public debate about scrapping their beloved tramcars. The furore this started was countered by arguments about the growing traffic problems & the maintenance costs of over 13 miles of track. However more important matters stopped any decision & soon the country was at war again. Sunderland was heavily bombed during WW2 but the trams kept going over constantly repaired tracks, driving through the burnt out or demolished buildings. And the clippies were back on duty.


With peace, the question of the future of trams returned but another extension to the system was nevertheless approved & the Durham Road line reached Thorney Close in 1949. This section, serving new estates, was the only one to run on a central reservation (i.e. on dedicated rail tracks as at left) but this modern development was the last gasp.
The decision was finally taken to change to omnibuses.
The final tram network of 7 different routes (below) was over 14 miles long & 54 million passengers had been carried by 91 trams in 1948 alone.

Changeover would be a massive job, new buses to purchase, staff to retrain, tracks and overhead lines to remove but at last, in 1950, the tram route to Villette Road was the first to close, The general feeling seems to have been one of nostalgia rather than opposition. In busy times, double lines of trams would queue to get through the town centre which with the post-war expansion of car ownership & road transport had turned into a traffic nightmare. The six remaining routes were closed in phases until midnight on Oct. 1, 1954 when the final route to Seaburn was closed.

Seven trams of varied design made up a cavalcade, six filled with members of the public holding shilling (5p) tickets & one for Corporation officials & guests.
Setting off from Fawcett Street they trundelled to cheers & songs down to Seaburn & then returned to the Wheatsheaf tram sheds right on midnight. 75 years after Sunderland's first oil-lit horse tram had rattled off to Roker, the old tram sheds finally closed their doors.
There was no demand for old trams & although one or two tram bodies ended up as sheds or pavilions most were burnt down in funeral pyres.


I do hope that you enjoy the image at right above, which comes from the early 1900s rather than from 1954. 'Do not eat your ticket' the sign says! It is of a postcard by artist F. Macleod, mailed in 1907, & ex a long expired eBay item. If you have a copy of the card, do consider providing a scan of it to the webmaster so we might show it in full page width. So we could read & enjoy all of its humour. Since those words were written, Paul Lanagan has come to the webmaster's assistance not with the identical image but rather with one most similar entitled 'THE LAST CAR TO HOUGHTON-LE-SPRING.' Thanks so much, Paul & thank you also the 'Houghton-le-Spring Heritage Archive' whose postcard it is. Do not miss the wonderful GIANT image of the card you can see here.

In the tram's last years the bus routes had escalated & by this date over 100 of the new 8 ft. wide designs were in service and Corporation bus bays had replaced tram stops. In addition suburban & long distance bus services had out-grown Park Lane which had to be doubled in size by extending it southwards. Ten years later an additional bus station at Crowtree Road was built for corporation buses on a dilapidated and bombed area between Holmeside and High Street West. It was little more than a very large shed which became a disaster area always full of fumes and very wet and cold for most of the year. It attracted vandalism and was to last 30 years, a time of great change. Sunderland's coal and shipping industries collapsed and the town fell on depressed and sad times. The Corporation nearly became bankrupt and in 1974, control of transport passed to Tyneside Passenger Transport and new names appeared on buses. Sunderland became a Metropolitan Borough in the new county of Tyne and Wear, and Washington, Houghton and Hetton became within the borough with little countryside in between. The opening of the long planned shopping centre in 1988 seemed to start a revival and when in 2000 this centre expanded and shops took over the Crowtree Road bus shelter there were few tears. During these many changes the Park Lane bus station had continued to grow although the local services now used bays in nearby Vine Place and Holmeside. It was now double its old size and had become the busiest U.K. coach terminal outside of London with nearly 200 bus movements an hour between 5 a.m. & 12 p.m. But there were even bigger changes to come. Going back to the late 1800s as railways were developing, one route had started a passenger service from Sunderland's central station to Durham via Penshaw. Leaving the station the track, in a cutting, passed under the old Park Lane then continued on with stations at Millfield, Pallion, Hylton and other villages to Durham. It was used by steam trains of one or two carriages pulled by small tank engines sometimes in push-pull configuration This line was closed in 1964 and the tracks removed although the other railway lines from the central station, north to Newcastle and Shields and south to Seaham, Middlesbrough and Stockton remained today both open and busy.

In 1980, the long planned Tyne and Wear Metro system was opened at Newcastle, connecting with Gateshead and the north and south banks of the Tyne, partly underground but mainly above ground on existing lines. Trains were made up from one or more 'Units' of two coupled cars.

The Tyne and Wear Transport Authority granted approval in 1999 to run services to Sunderland & three years later the Metro system was extended by branching off at Pelaw to join the existing main-line tracks to Sunderland. The Metro line now continues along the old Durham railway line to Metro stations built at Park Lane, The University, Millfield, Pallion and South Hylton.

Sunderland central station was and remains a problem as it handles considerable main line traffic between Newcastle and the coast down to Middlesbrough plus some services to London as well as up to five Metro trains an hour. All using only two tracks, one up and one down (the adjacent railway bridge and line to Pelaw also have only two tracks). The station is a disgrace. The fine old Victorian iron canopy was destroyed in an air raid & subsequently the adjacent Gothic buildings & clock tower were also demolished to be built over by shops. So the station is now completely underground, cramped & with very make-do lighting.

By contrast, the next stop Park Lane Metro station (at left next) is attractive & modern with the station concourse leading out directly to the bus station above to form the Park Lane Interchange.


It became a fully operational in 2002.

'Nexus' (run by the Passenger Transport Executive of Tyne and Wear) who run the Metro have longer term plans to extend the network, Tyne Dock, Washington, Ryhope and Seaham have all been considered. They would also like to gain permission for some street running but face opposition from bus companies as well as from those who relate this to the old tram services.

Nowadays, I could indeed take the Metro 'tram' from South Hylton some twenty miles to Newcastle Airport but my memory would go back to childhood, seating sideways along an old tram's wooden bench seat downstairs or running up to ride in the open front of the upper deck while we rattled & clanked along the sea front. Or perhaps, to save my penny, I would just go to the new Park Lane bus stands to watch the well-dressed people with suitcases boarding a luxury coach with arm chairs & curtains before setting out for its 12 hour journey to London.

It was all magic enough for a child.

Len, we thank you for another fine article!

I trust that it is in order for the images which are shown above, to be included in this informational & non-profit website. If you are the copyright owner of any of the material included in this page, & would wish it removed, please be in touch & I will gladly remove it. But probably with some regret! And probably I would wish to try to replace the material from a source which is acceptable. You can contact me here.

Sources (where known to the webmaster or otherwise indicated) of the 'Stagecoach to Metro' images? 1 Not the source of the above image, but I see via an eBay item that this image was published in 1991 as a colour postcard by the Royal Mail, perhaps by the Postal Museum at Bath? 4 (ex Wikipedia Commons), 9, 11, 12, 19 & 20 (pages on the fine website of the long-established 'Sunderland Antiquarian Society'. There may be more images from that source, now I know their origin), 15 (a map that appears on the '' website, such map, per Gordon Bulmer, being provided by Malcolm Fraser), 25 (a map that appears on the '' website, such map, per Gordon Bulmer, being provided by Malcolm Fraser), 26 was from a long expired eBay listing.

Additional Material

1) At left below a fine Feb. 1966 photograph of the demolition of the north end of the Sunderland railway station - to pave the way for a 'Littlewoods' store. An image which would merit being shown much larger should that ever prove to be possible. A 'monkwearmouth' eBay item in May 2012, slightly modified by the webmaster.

2) Next, an early postcard image, stated to be by F. Robinson, photographer, of 135 High Street West, Sunderland. Possibly 'Munro's charabancs waiting to go on a trip'. The storefront reads 'Duddingston & McEwan's 90/- Special Ales', I read. An eBay item in Sep. 2012.

The name of 'Duddingston' seems to be closely related to Edinburgh, Scotland. And to the brewers there, maybe 'Duddingston Brewery', whose product was sold over the north east. Can anybody tell us if the image truly relates to Sunderland?


For your pleasure & interest.

An image which does not relate to Len Charlton's article above but does relate to the general subject of transportation.  The postcard was, I understand, a limited edition postcard (1st edition limited to 5,000 copies) published by Dawn Cover Productions, of Stockport. It apparently shows 'Ex LNER Locomotive B17/2 No.61654 named 'Sunderland' in its British Rail Livery crossing the Wear.' One of a batch of 25 locomotives named after Football Clubs, 'Sunderland' entered service in Apl. 1936 & was withdrawn in Nov. 1959. A fine image indeed.

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